Lightroom Tips

5 Lightroom Organizing Mistakes and How To Avoid Them

One of the biggest questions I get about Lightroom is how to organize your photos. As I travel around teaching seminars, I usually come across some of the same mistakes and pitfalls, so I have a few tips on how to get around them here.

1. Moving or renaming your photos outside of Lightroom
Do you ever get those dreaded question marks next to your photos or folders. They usually mean you’ve moved a photo or renamed a photo outside of Lightroom. Trust me, Lightroom didn’t do it automatically 🙂 At some point, you went to the folder that has those photos and did something. The easy way around this one is to always move or rename your photos in Lightroom. Just right click on a folder or go to the Library menu to rename a photo. Oh, and if you ever do see the question marks next to a folder, you can right click on it and choose “Find Missing Folder” and point it to where ever the folder is now.

2. Organizing By Date
I already know there’s a lot of disagreement on this one. I run in to so many people that organize their folders by date. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why. There’s no way I can remember what I shot back on April 10th from just looking at a date. And then to organize by year as well. I don’t see my photography as an accounting statement. To me, there’s no reason that what I shot in December of 2012 should be separated from what I shot in February of 2013. And if you do store by date, what happens when you go on a trip? Then you have that trip stored in multiple folders because it happened on multiple dates. There’s just nothing about a date that works to help you find your photos.

Note: If you’ve already been doing this for years you probably shouldn’t change. This one is more for people who are just starting out and don’t have a good organizing plan yet. So if you organize by date, you should probably just skip this one right now 🙂

So here’s what I’d suggest. Organize by some sort of descriptive name. If you absolutely feel you need to find your photos by date, you’ll be happy to know that Lightroom already does that for you. Just go to View > Show Filter Bar. Then under the Metadata option you’ll see you can search for your photos by date.


But if you organize by descriptive names, then you can easily take the best photos from that folder and put them in to a collection so they’re easy to get to. So what happens if you go New York in 2008 and then again in 2012? Put them all in the same folder. The date doesn’t matter. What matters is that you know how to get to your favorites from New York and you can do that with Collections (and maybe even Collection Sets if you need another level of organizing).

3. Mixing Flags, stars, and labels
Unless you have a very specific and advanced workflow (maybe you’re a pro wedding photographer or stock photographer), I’d suggest you don’t mix using flags, star ratings and color labels. Keep it simple. Personally I use flags. That way, I always know how to find my favorites because I can filter by just the flagged photos.

4. Not using Collections because you’re afraid it’s only a “Lightroom thing”
Here’s another common pitfall I see at my seminars. After I teach about collections, some people will come up and ask if other programs “read” or understand Lightroom’s collections. When I say no, they say “Well, what happens when I stop using Lightroom”. If you stop using Lightroom, then yes, any work you’ve done in collections probably won’t be read by whatever program you do. I guess my suggest would be not to approach your start of using Lightroom by wondering about when you’re going to stop. Collections are really one of the keys to getting (and keeping) organized in Lightroom so I’d suggest putting your favorite photos there and using them to your advantage.

5. Using Multiple Catalogs
Here’s another one I hear about a lot. Unless you’re an advanced user of Lightroom, I’d suggest just using one catalog. I actually wrote a post about it recently if you want to read more on it. In a nutshell, keep it simple. You won’t hit a photo limit in Lightroom, so unless you’ve got a very specific reason to complicate things with multiple catalogs, I’d stick with just one.

Thanks for stopping by today. Even if you eventually don’t use all of these suggestions, I hope it at least helps you see where some of the common pitfalls and mistakes happen when organizing in Lightroom (and helps you avoid them). See ya!



  1. Maciej 4 June, 2022 at 13:53 Reply

    Lightroom organisation is a complete nightmare. I have tens of thousands of photos stored in folders that completely make sense to me, i don’t know why i would have to redo it all to be able to use a single application. Utter madness. And what if i want to save it outside lightroom? I had high hopes for the app, but now I am about to scrape it right after i started. I opened a a new pic, wanted to edit it and save it in a folder existing on my drive and it seems it is impossible

  2. Eugene Grewing 1 July, 2017 at 17:50 Reply

    Trey Ratcliff, world renown landscape photographer, perhaps you’ve heard of him, has over a hundred thousand photos in his catalog and he can easily find anything he needs. All organized by date with location names after the date. Are you going to tell him he’s doing it wrong?

    • Kristinn Andersen 6 July, 2017 at 13:31 Reply

      I store my photos in folders labelled by date and think it is a good approach, giving me at least some sense of what to find in each folder. To make things simple, I just use the date when the files were downloaded from the camera. A typical folder name would be like this…


      This indicates that the files were downloaded from the camera Dec. 28 2017 and include photos from Christmas and mom’s birthday. There may be additional events there, but I don’t bother putting it all into the name. I might even just omit the text part and only keep the date part if I am in a hurry or don’t remember what these photos were all about. I might later rename that folder when I have taken a closer look at its content. Note that I keep the order: year-month-day so that the file explorer sorts the dates correctly.

  3. cybericius 23 October, 2016 at 06:38 Reply

    I go for general, universal order, that can be used even outside Lightroom.
    I just hate that Lightroom stores everything in a one big lrcat file. Could be better to store the majority of the manipulation data in the folder where the actual picture is.

    [Shooting Year]-[Shooting Month]-[Shooting Day] [Camera Model] [Description of event, subject, etc.]
    2009-01-02 [CANT3i] Landing on Mars

    • cybericius 23 October, 2016 at 06:42 Reply

      Cons of using one big LRCAT file:
      – You need to change folder structures within Lightroom, cannot manipulate folders/files outside of the program
      – Gets slow as it gets bigger
      – Higher risk of corruption
      – If corruption happens, it destroys all data

  4. Blue 5 September, 2015 at 15:28 Reply

    Simple filename based on date and time. Will always be unique.

    Folder for each date. Add description to folder name (e.g., “20060506 Robert Plant Concert Austin Texas”.

    Keyword photos on Lightroom import.

    Not using date and time to impose order on your file library is a terrible idea.

    • B Chou 13 December, 2016 at 11:28 Reply

      Totally agree with the comment that using date is a good idea. I realize that experience photographers can have great advice. But, just because an experienced photographer has a firm belief, does not mean he/she is thinking like you. I’ve organized my photos by Date & Title for about 8 years. Works perfect for our family. (Example: 031412 New York Vacation). You can even add people who aren’t usually in your photos, like (Example: 031412 New York Vacation Grandpa Grandma Aunt Julie). These terms (New York, Aunt Julie,etc) are TOTALLY SEARCHABLE in a SUPER FAST moment.

      I don’t take a TON of photos about say “Trees”. I would NEVER organize my photos for example: scenery photos, or skylines. This is something “some” pro photographers would do, because finding that “perfect” skyline photo needs to happen fast. Needle in a haystack thing. I don’t have 2,000 skyline photos, taken during 20 separate events. BUT even if I did, I could totally search skylines in my titles in about 2 seconds.

      Regarding putting all photos in one (1) catalog:
      Currently, we have our family photos in one catalog (25,000 photos taking up 600 GB). I’ve got to tell you that lightroom 5 is taking longer and longer to load, which to me is a pain in the ass. And, it’s only going to get worse. As a result, I’m in the process of deciding how I want to separate the photos into separate catalogs. I may use catalogs in 5 year increments, or something like this. To me, this is not even up for debate. I will be using separate catalogs.

      On this topic.
      Two years ago I attended 3 seminars put on by a pro-photographer here in Ohio. The only thing he did was have multiple upon multiple of separate catalogs. In fact, he was so good at using multiple catalogs, that I would consider him a multiple catalog expert. And for him, it worked perfect.

      I’m no where near to his thinking of using a separate catalog for everything, but I definitely saw that it could be super beneficial for some people. He would use a separate catalog for a under-water photo shoot that he wanted to edit on the road.

      Respectfully, I disagree with the author on these two “mistakes”.

  5. Gillian vann 30 August, 2015 at 00:17 Reply

    Isn’t it a lot of work to move photos into new folders as you import them? I suppose if you only shoot one event at a time it might work. i’ve seen ppl try to organise this way and it’s a nightmare. what if I’m on a trip to Sydney for a friend’s birthday and i take a stock photo? so I’ve now got “sydney trip – the one where we went for a birthday, tourist shots” and “sydney stock photos” “random stock photos” and “Sydney birthday party” and “pics of my girls” “pics of my girls that are stock photos” gah!! what a nightmare and how time consuming, and also how impossible to find them in a sea of other folders. this is what keywords are for, to tag: sydney, birthday, girls, stock. this is why we use a catalogue, but a simple organising system, by date, is far easier in the first place. If you don’t keyword, then yes, you’ll run into trouble at some point. I guess we all catalogue differently, but as a woman who is quite descriptive and wordy, I still prefer the simple date method for storing images. there’s nothing like starting a fresh ext HD each year, and looking at that HD with “2014” on it and knowing what’s there, and what’s not. But sure, each to their own. 🙂

  6. nelle 26 April, 2015 at 20:51 Reply

    Interesting. After reading this, I’m convinced it is better to never bother with Lightroom than get tied to using it. I’ve added it to this machine with great hope of using it to work with images, but the strong emphasis on collections turned me off. I can open a photo in Photoshop and work with it. I know where the photo is (all quite organised) and that is my preference here – just let me open a photo and work with it.

  7. Alex Howe 24 April, 2015 at 06:51 Reply

    Thanks for that. The one thing I was looking for was a tip on how to recategorize a file by event instead of by date. Possible as an after thought. Seems my newly installed Lightroom has taken in a whole load of existing folders from my PICTURES folder all on it’s own.
    If I cannot recategorize then what is the best way forward? THanks

  8. Alfredo Perez 6 April, 2015 at 00:42 Reply


    I entered a little late into this discussion but I am new in LR.

    Matt with all due respect I think there are many valid aspects commented in this post and I think you as a instructor and expert in the subject should honored and analyzed.

    I will mention something though as a new LR user. The Collection facility is something to take care of, even though it is a great facility I think that naming conventions and organization has also to do with documentation and recovery. The technology is moving fast and you will never know what options will be available not in the distant but in the near future. After spending time analyzing this feature, I’d prefer to minimize its use and maybe using it for specific important portfolios. I think, and it is my opinion, that is better to use folder and subfolder structures to create your organization strategy using the correct naming conventions that can easily be used in the event of transferring to another product or even to view outside of LR.

    So metadata is critical but if you use some key metadata in your file names or folder structure that will make sense for me, it is my approach it does mean that the others are wrong.

    I don’t use date in my folder structure, I prefix all my folders/subfoders with a symbol that has a meaning to me it will also be nicely sorted at first sorted in the library view. I rename all my file and tag the custom text-date-sequence E.g:

    @ – Digital Shots
    # – Portfolio or projects (it is my collections folders)
    & – Film or analogs (Scanned Shots)
    > – Subfolder

    so here are a couple of examples of my folder tree

    Folder – Subfolder



    These has to be combined with keywords to ease the search mechanisms within LR.

    My method helps me to exploit LR features and at the same time has a mean to understand what is on my hard drive for portability reasons, and even though I am adopting LR I’d prefer to think this way

    Matt thanks this is a great space for discussion and learning

    Alfredo Perez

  9. Jeff 11 August, 2014 at 03:34 Reply

    Hmmm I seem to be the only one that sorts by camera. Granted that doesn’t work for those with more than 1 body of different types of cameras. I’d barely remember what date I took a photo, but I usually remember what camera I took it with. For a set (shoot/trip etc), I’ll create a folder within the parent folder in LR so I can choose whether to view it or not.

    However I wish I did split catalogs up. I’m running out of space and if I had a couple of catalogs (even as each camera model) I could export these to a couple different devices as now I’d need a whopping large ‘portable’ drive with the 1 catalog versus say splitting up by camera (older cameras moved off the PCIe-based SSD and on to something else given I’m rarely needing to look back a 2+ cameras ago).

    One day I’ll add a Thunderbolt based storage system that will sort that out, but the NAS is just to slow and only suitable for backup.

  10. Sathhya 20 April, 2014 at 14:47 Reply

    Hi Matt,

    Thanks for a very illuminating post. As I am starting off on Lightroom (and other apps), I found the post very timely though I know you ave written it almost a year ago. I hope you wont mind responding to my query so late.

    I am an amateur photographer and use my camera in family event and functions and personal vacations. I have been an iPhoto user for ages -almost 10 years – when I finally decided the software was getting too slow and difficult to manage. I have about 30000 photos in my library and it took me a good amount of time to just get all my photos (and their data) out of iPhoto into a hard drive. I organized my photos in a year-month-event fashion. I see you have advocated against it – but well.. I saw this too late. Another reason was also that I could rely on the software to help in keeping my photos organized. I dont think I will ever navigate through Finder or Windows Explorer to locate my photos. I would use the software 99.9% of the time. I am hence not too worried about the folder structure.

    What I am concerned about and what I would like to know from you – how to best keep family photo collection as mine organized in Lightroom. For me, the photos are all about the people and events that happen in my life. I liked iPhoto in this regard – its face recognition feature combined with Events tagging helped a lot. But it got out of hand because iPhoto mandated that every photo be tied to an event. That rather diluted the whole purpose of events and made it a mess. Is there a best practice to be followed for keeping yourself organized well in Lightroom so that I can easily jump to say, the photo having me and wife taken at Florence in 2007?


    • Anoop Gupta 27 February, 2017 at 10:41 Reply


      There are no best practices that serve all possible needs. Journalists are concerned primarily with the name alone; historians might want to also record formal titles (eg. Joe Smith, President, IBM); genealogists might want to store family relationships, and so on.

      Lightroom 6 and above support face recognition, and allow the user to specify a top-level tag under which it will store all the recognized face names that you create. You’ll need to think about your needs and create a hierarchy that suits you. For example, under Lightroom’s top-level People tag I created subgroups for Immediate Family, Extended Family, and Acquaintances to help de-clutter the hundreds of people names in my catalog.

      Hope this helps.

  11. Jerry S. 17 April, 2014 at 18:48 Reply

    Question on Lightroom and video…
    Since Lightroom can import, and organize videos similar to photos, how do individuals treat videos imported into Lightroom? What I am getting at is, the physical storage location of them on the hard disk as well as the organizational consideration of video within Lightroom (Collections, etc.). Does one keep all the data together by date or some other classification regardless of data type (images, video) or does one separate out video content from images in some form of hierarchy (i.e., folder, subfolder structure).

  12. Bryan 17 April, 2014 at 10:21 Reply

    I have a different organizational structure than most…
    I use one catalog (although this may change as I am beginning to see performance issues as I approach 200,000 images… )
    My highest level of organization is Personal vs Business
    For Business, I then specify Location (i.e. United States, Canada, Europe, etc.)
    Then I specify more detailed location (i.e. New York, Washington, California, etc.)
    Then I organize by Shoot Type (i.e. Sports, Event, Portraiture, etc.)
    Then by Shoot Description (i.e. BASS Masters Tournament, etc.)
    IF, I tend to reshoot the same locations year after year, they are then organized by year.

    I know, I must be insane but it works for me.

  13. William Beem 23 December, 2013 at 20:39 Reply

    Keep in mind that CS6 is still available for those who don’t want to go with Creative Cloud. There are alternatives, but Adobe’s direction certainly is to go with Creative Cloud. Not surprising, since it makes for a regular and more predictable stream of income.

    The only certainty is change. Sooner or later, we’ll all end up using something else. No sense worrying about it now, though.

    • tokyojerry 23 December, 2013 at 20:58 Reply

      Yeap, for sure! CS6 is still available… for those who don’t mind remaining in stunt growth mode going forward. Surely, Adobe’s CC model is Adobe’s new game plan, and good for them as a business model. After all that is what it’s all about, business.

      For sure, change is inevitable, otherwise we’d all still be using floppy disks (I reckon some do). Ditto for DVDs, BDs, as SDXC cards approach the road mapped 2TB level. The impermanence of permanence. 😉 So yes indeed, use the prevailing tools for as long as one can.

  14. tokyojerry 23 December, 2013 at 18:16 Reply

    This discussion has become quite old already but am surprised it was resurrected again in my inbox this morning. (^J^)

    My opinion, as subjective as it is, as every one else’s, is that collections is just an alternative way to define hierarchy. Except you want to call them collections rather then folders. It is still dependent on an A,B,C sequential hierarchy, and further, accumulate to many of them collections and you begin to create ‘collection sets’ (i.e., Lightroom’s definition for ‘folders’) I use a defined hierarchical folder structure to import original data into my system from 5 different sources.

    Then, I apply keywords and collections within Lightroom based on that hierarchical ‘folder’ structure that was imported through LR.

    Here tagging (keywords) come is important, assuming if one is faithfully consistent about defining / managing digital assets.

    Any systematic approach to large amounts of data is the same…. looking up a book in a public library, finding a phone number in a telephone directory. Thus so is it the same for your media data. We as humans, always remember something about something or somebody. That’s just the way the human brain functions. Thus, a hybrid combination of both are really essential to define, find, and locate. The hybrid combination works best for me.

    Matt here on this blog also has his own subjective ‘what is best’ for organization and location of data files. Bottom line is, there is no one real right way or wrong way. This is a very subjective process for each individual in their approach to data management. In my way, the hybrid system works best. A chronologically sequenced folder structure on initial import is the first part of my work flow. Then, I refine my media management from within Lightroom. One of the reasons I hate iPhoto is because of your ‘shoe box’ example. All the shoes gets thrown into one ‘shoebox (library container file) which increasingly gets larger and larger as you add 100s of photos to it throughout the course of a year. I really hate that concept. So, no matter how polished iPhoto might be in editting, it’s a disqualifier based on how it deals with media. Been using LR since it’s inception. At least LR gives you the choice to use folders. It is obviously important or they would not include the folder structure in the left hand pane. It’s why I don’t use iPhoto, and also why I discontinued using their once-upon-a-time, now defunct iDVD. They would not even allow you to pull in your own index.html file and /or organize one’s web sites as one saw fit.

    If Adobe decides to go cloud with LR like all their other products, then I will have to reconsider then life beyond Lightroom then…. Aperture or whatever works best next.

    Anyway, good luck with using only collections and keywords. Just remember, collections also require some hierarchical organization based on how you define those collections. 😉

    • tokyojerry 23 December, 2013 at 18:22 Reply

      Ah, I just realized this message is in response to Ben Jones message of September 6, 2013 in this thread. My Gmail inbox choronologically listss older messages first and newest ones all the way to the bottom (David K. December 23rd (above)) so, if this seems out of sequence, check Ben Jones 9/6 for applicability of my comment here.

    • William Beem 23 December, 2013 at 18:46 Reply

      I wouldn’t worry too much about Lightroom going only to the cloud. Aperture is a fine program, as is Lightroom. I use both and there’s one thing I tell everyone who considers switching – think hard about it. It’s an enormous task, you will lose a lot of effort that you’ve applied in one program because it won’t transfer to the other.

      There are some things that Lightroom does better than Aperture and vice versa. On the whole, I can think of few circumstances where it is worth the effort to switch from one to the other.

      • tokyojerry 23 December, 2013 at 20:03 Reply

        Thanks for that input on switching programs. Fundamentally I agree with you, and in principle I would prefer not to switch. But it’s just the ultimate, ‘what if’ factor. Just what if Adobe decides to arbitrarily, ad hoc go to the cloud with Lightroom? Nothing stopping them. They did it with just about every other application product of theirs. Of course a lot work would have to be reworked. We tend to get too comfortable with a single program only to realize later the amount of ‘control’ they have over you, becoming well entrenched into their solution to management and organization. I reckon the same could be said for ACDSee, Aperture, or any other solution out there. Anyway, I hope you are right and they don’t go cloud-based for Lightroom as they’ve done for Photoshop and every thing else. Their ‘Elements’ applications are still non-cloud. So is Pixelmator which I acquired sometime back when they had a really reduced price for a limited period of time via the AppStore.

        On catalogs in Lightroom for organizing, best to make a new LR catalog for each year, or just keep accumulating every thing in one master catalog? I reckon the latter approach would allow for a catalog file to become humongously large like iPhoto’s single library file. But that contains the actual media data as well. With 2014 approaching, I am thinking to go annual on LR catalogs.

  15. DavidK 23 December, 2013 at 11:53 Reply

    I still don’t understand why not to put all the pictures in a single folder ?
    Since Performance is not a problem with more recent versions of Lightroom, neither is it to find whatever you want with Filters : Date, Location, Specific Keywords, etc.

  16. Jens 21 November, 2013 at 19:10 Reply

    to #1 and #4 : that happened to me in Bridge actually, when moving my photos to a new Mac. I was not aware, that the Collections don’t remember the photo itself, but their location within bridge. So photos i moved within the file system while rearranging my set up were not found by Bridge collections anymore. Luckily i had used only a few Collections, so i was able to rebuild the ones i needed.
    Should you be concerned to loose your collections when moving to a different program, you can keyword all files within the collections with the collection name. Make sure you write keywords to the actual files (IPTC) and you can recreate the collections easily with any other program that reads iptc. ( Spotlight and Finder on Mac read the IPTC Keywords by the way, and you can create some sort of smart collections with saved searches! )


  17. Paul 19 November, 2013 at 20:46 Reply

    I have the following scenario. I recently acquired a NAS that allows me to store all files in one original location. With Lightroom 5, I am now using the ADD ( Add photos to Catalogue without moving them ) and use the Smart Previews options.

    This allows me to store a fraction of the size of the total image space on my SSD. Example is 9gig smart preview catalogue where the images in total equal 100 or more gig.

    My question is as following.

    When connected to the mapped NAS drive, if I click delete, I am given the option to delete the original source file.

    If I am “offline” that is not connected to the NAS drive, when deleting an image I am told that I am deleting a offline smart preview version not the source.
    I would have thought that when I reconnect to the NAS later, the original source file would be deleted as part of the offline actions I performed on the catalogue.

    I tested this and this is not the case. If I can achieve this, it will allow me to keep an up to date catalogue when I am offline and then when I get online at home, my catalogue would be placed in sync with content on the NAS.

    Any ideas how I can achieve this ?

    Thanks in advance.


    • Hans 22 November, 2013 at 10:22 Reply

      Unfortunately I have no solutions but have the exact same issue. The original files gets ‘out of sync’ in terms of which deletion.

      I’m also very interested in suggestions, other than “Just wait until you are connected to actually delete marked files”, if one exists.

    • Paul 27 November, 2013 at 23:44 Reply

      SO, I’ve found a potential solution. Mark the file with an X. The when reconnected to the NAS, Library – Reject images to clear out the files you no longer want.

  18. Heather 1 November, 2013 at 11:26 Reply

    I don’t agree with the “One Catalog” tip. I used only one catalog for several months, acquired close to 80k photos in the catalog and Lightroom was extremely slow and had a ton of lag. When I switched to personalized catalogs for sessions, It’s extremely fast and I haven’t had a crash since. It just doesnt make sense to have a wedding for one client in the same grouping as a funeral from another client. This way, I can also have all the edits and raw files in one place and know exactly where they are without having to search through the huge catalog.

  19. Tim 30 October, 2013 at 14:40 Reply

    I know this is getting to be an older post, but just recently came across it. First, I have to give Matt a lot of credit for getting me on the right track with Lightroom. Until I watched some of his videos, I had no idea what I was doing with LR.

    However, one area I still struggle with is file naming. I originally tried it the way Matt teaches and I ran into the problems described in this thread (the biggest problem I always run into is what exactly to call this file – Vacation?, Florida?, Trip?, etc). So, I kind of have a mishmash of names.

    For me, using dates really makes it easier for me. I just use the dates now with keywords and collections and I find it much easier.

    I’ve decided that some people think more in a date oriented method and some people are more event oriented. For example, some people (like Marilu Henner) can tell you what they were doing 10 years ago at 3 pm (I’m not kidding on this – check her out). Some people can’t remember what they had for lunch. So, I think it is very specific to how you think and one size may not fit all.

  20. vivendi 23 September, 2013 at 02:01 Reply

    Jenny, the voice of reason, confirmed by experience. Good points, Jenny. Dates my be good for events, but they are useless for ongoing subjects and themes.

  21. Jenny Lens 21 September, 2013 at 20:02 Reply

    Real story: 2 LA photographers photographed early punk. One from Aug 1976 to July 1980. The other started in 1978 and continued thru the 80’s.

    Guess which one can call up ANY group, no matter when?

    The other always says: “tell me when the show was, and I’ll look for it.”

    I shot over 45,000 photos in those 4 yrs. I keep my slides/negs and yes, tens of thousands of scans, alphabetically by subject. Each proof sheet, slide sheet or individual file starts w/the date.

    It’s a vital bit of history, and dates are vital to me for journalists, film-makers, museums, fans, collectors.

    After the yr, month, date, neg roll and # or slide #, some text describing who, what, where, etc. I keep an Excel worksheet listing vital dates. The digital files are by group, except some by projects. The high res by dates, cos that’s the way I organized my solo book, Punk Pioneers, published by Rizzoli.

    Wow, whether you save by date or category is up to you. Sounds like many of you insist on one way or another.

    I agree: I am NOT an accountant or bean counter! I have a better memory than most. Mostly cos I’m blessed with a good memory, didn’t drink like many during punk. But also due to my Excel spreadsheet, which I refer to when I date the scans or actual files.

    AND I carry this over to my extensive LR catalog. I love shooting flowers. I have a folder with nested folders by various flower names and/or colors. Would I dare organize it by date? Are you kidding me?

    I keep parties in Events per yr, then nested folders w/events and date … but if I forget when an event was, I can search by the folder name. Plus I rename many files. I’ve plenty of ops to search by name.

    And my apt is organized like this, from canned goods to teas to cloth, books (on par w/library or bookstore), and more.

    EVERYONE always remarks on my organizational ability. The fact I can find something amongst my many supplies.

    IF you wanna organize by date, fine! Just wait 5, 10, 20 yrs from now … might be a good idea to be sure to rename folders and some files too. Just a thought.

    To each his or her own. But gee, one method doesn’t work for everyone.

    I would die if I organized by photos purely by date. I don’t even like to do that for my WordPress sites. I always turn that off. Yeah, like I’m gonna remember exactly when I posted what. Computer are designed to help us w/mundane tasks. One is remembering dates.

    What did I photograph 2 days ago? Blooming angel trumpets. Three times this week, and once in August. Yeah, I’m gonna have four folders of the same flower. Not.

    With that, back to my flowers, the upload is complete. Have fun!

    • Donncha 24 September, 2013 at 04:02 Reply

      Jenny, you’re not using Lightroom to it’s fullest. I have over 10 years of photos archived in yyyy/yyyy-mm-dd format but I rarely look things up by date. I use keywords, and before I had Lightroom (and previouly used Aftershot Pro) I used to add a description to a dated folder.

      Now, I want to find all my San Francisco photos I hit CTRL-F, type “San Francisco” into the search box and boom, all my photos are there. The second photographer in your example scenario obviously never used keywords.

      A filesystem stores files but doesn’t know much about them or metadata concerning the contents of those files. Lightroom doesn’t care where the files are but it does know about metadata. It makes sense to store the files in a deterministic and scalable way. You know there’s only 365/366 days in a year but how big will your “punk” folder be compared to your “flowers” folder?

      Using keywords means you don’t have to organise your photos as soon as you import them too.

      Let Lightroom handle the metadata, not the filesystem.

  22. Anna 18 September, 2013 at 05:50 Reply

    I worked for a photographer who insisted that I organised her several hundred thousand photo portfolio by description. For example countries > africa > game reserves > name of game reserve. Sounds easy enough until you have an animals > giraffe/lion/elephants etc folder tree and you end up with duplicates.

    What I mean to say is that in my experience descriptive folder names lead to thousands of duplicates and headaches, and become a nightmare to backup.

    Now I am organising another photographers portfolio (and my own) with the filename format of “ – shoot description”, I am having no problems whatsoever.
    I work through each set of photos by shoot. I flag my best shots, keyword the set as a whole and then individually if needed. At the moment I prefer to 4 or 5 star my top photos.

    To me the dates themselves aren’t important, that’s just a way to keep the files sitting nicely on my harddrive and to keep my portfolio duplicate free.

    If I want to find my my best shark from south africa I will search the entire catalogue for the keyword “shark” and “south africa” and find the one with the best star rating, maybe also checking metadata for camera model and megapixels if needed.

    I personally only use collections to organise photo requests so I can collect and review a group of photos together before export, or if I am finding photos to submit to image libraries.

    Each to their own.

  23. Ben Jones 5 September, 2013 at 06:15 Reply

    Thanks Matt for a thoughtful article that has provided lots of points for discussion. Having come to Lightroom from iPhto, I wonder if there is something to be learned from this much-maligned but actually much-underrated programme.

    To be frank, I am astonished at the passion displayed over the best way to organise photos by using folders, ie date, subject matter, etc.

    When I import photos into Lightroom, I really don’t care what folder they go in or what it is called. As soon as the photos are imported they will be renamed, sorted into Collections (for iPhoto, read Events) and given keywords (or flags, labels, ratings).

    After that, I never look at the folders again. Why would I? Everything is in Lightroom within Collections, or I can call them up using keywords. The same picture can be in multiple Collections without having to remember or worry which folder the actual file is in.

    Think of a folder as a big shoebox with all your photos in. A nightmare to find anything. But even putting lots of little shoeboxes within the big one (and more shoeboxes inside those) doesn’t improve the situation much.

    I suggest moving away from folders. They are an archaic and cumbersome way to organize an ever-increasing archive of photos. In iPhoto, the folders are not even normally accessible. If you desperately need to know, Lightroom will tell you where a photo is located on your system.

    Also, if you are not constantly adding new imports to folders you have already created, it makes backing up much easier.

    Just a thought.

  24. Stephen James 3 August, 2013 at 08:31 Reply

    I am just beginning to organize and I just discovered that the Exif “creation date” and “modified date” are all wrong for most of my photos. This is because I made copies over the years. So, now I cannot rely on this Exif data to be dependable for sorting by year. This leads me to feel the only way around this is to create folders by date in future.

    • tokyojerry 4 August, 2013 at 12:01 Reply

      Which is what I already do on initial import of media files.

      2013 / 07 / 07-31/
      2013 / 08 / 08-01/

      But the fallacy here is, if the information in your EXIF file is incorrect, then the placement of your imported data will be incorrect. Lightroom reads and extracts EXIF data to place imported data as illustrated above. Lightroom does that according to date information it extracts from EXIF information. So, need to be sure your camera is set to the right date. Or, manually create your folders and subfolders on each import.

    • TokyoJerry 1 August, 2013 at 21:10 Reply

      In my comment to Rasmus (above) in my case, I would output my data to PLACES / US / Hawaii / waikikibeach-130801-001.jpg

      Since ‘Travel’ would involve a ‘Place’ that is where it would go for me. ‘PLACE’ can include travel, but not limited only to travel. How each person perceives and defines organization. J.

  25. Rasmus 1 August, 2013 at 17:07 Reply

    Whatever your opinion is on it, don’t give him crap for it! Personally I organize my photos by year->month and then i name my files yyyymmdd_nnn. But after reading this I realize that organizing it by the way he says might not be that bad of an idea! I think I might try it! However one question: What if I take landscape pictures on my travel (vacation) to australia for exampel? Do I put that in travel because it was taken at a travel, or do i put it landscapes because it’s a landscape photo?

    • TokyoJerry 1 August, 2013 at 20:56 Reply

      Rasmus, I come close to your style for organization. On new imports via LR, all new content goes into:
      I like having all my original data in a unique, chronological sequence which will always have a unique identifier (since time is a continuum and that point in time shall never return.

      For real people in the real world, On export (post production work) for publishing, sharing, or my own home published NAS, I assign logical category folders and file names that real world scenarioso can deal with.

      Folder / sub-folder tells me it was a place and it was Japan. Two keywords identify the ‘what’ factor. 6-digit date allows me to reference back to the chronologically sequenced original data files, followed by a sequence number. Works for me. All-in-all, this is a very subjective process how each individual can relate to organization, including MattK. He has his way which he feels is best. It’s a subjective process. Just like someone asking me, “what is the best camera to buy?” Loaded question and subjective. Main thing is, define a system and be consistent with it.

      BTW, completely unrelated, you are the second person I came across with the name Rasmus. I have a friend of mine in Japan by the same name. He is an expat from Sweden. 🙂

    • mattk 2 August, 2013 at 06:04 Reply

      Hi Rasmus – I’d put it in the most logical place for you. For me, if I went to Australia it would go in to an “Australia” folder. From there, I’d create a Collection set called “Australia” and inside of it, I’d put the places I went so that I could segment out some of the key spots in Australia.
      For me, “Travel” and “Landscapes” are overall categories of photos. I don’t store my photos by category because it requires another level below it, and it requires me to think of whether I stored it in travel or landscape. But there’s one place I’ll always go to when I’m looking for a photo from Australia – you guessed it… a folder named Australia.
      Hope that helps 🙂

  26. TokyoJerry 20 July, 2013 at 16:52 Reply

    Yes, I thought so, that the metadata (keywords, ©,etc) was able to be attached to the file. That is an option during export. Thanks for the heads up on this.

  27. Terry Garlow 18 July, 2013 at 09:31 Reply

    Date format works for me and here is why…

    I have for the last several years used a 5D MkII with the WiFi grip, when I get home the pictures I took are automatically uploaded and since there is no way for it to know what I was doing it just puts them in date folders usually while I sleep. They are also automatically backed up early the next morning.

    I may shoot for several days before opening Lightroom to look at and organize them. It makes sense to import them in place and keyword them and finally use smart collections to organize. To use your suggestion and try to move things around at this point would be counter productive and a big time waster.

    WiFi cameras are becoming more common and will soon be the norm, so I say use this new technology to your advantage rather than fight it. If the cameras and computers someday become smart enough to know what I am doing when I shoot then I will look at a different method.

  28. Renato 18 July, 2013 at 07:22 Reply

    IMO the reasons for storing by date or in any other way are different. Photography is about memory, and we remember things, people and places from the past when we find them in our timeline. If you use your photos professionally time may be relevant to a subject alone, but not to your intent to produce those images. Political facts for instance are important for a journalist, but landscaping maybe not that much. Since LR has already the dates on the files you can easily retrieve whatever date you want even when the file is not organized that way. I totally see and agree with Matt’s point.

  29. John Hooton 18 July, 2013 at 06:10 Reply

    I use collections as an editing tool. If I have 500 photos taken on a shoot, I colour mark the best and add them to a collection. This is a great way of making a shortlist of your best of the shoot. Then you can go through those in the best collection to make your final selections. I then start the processing and eventually export the finals.

  30. Topher 18 July, 2013 at 04:37 Reply

    I understand there has been a lot of debate about this article.
    I too use the date method and you are correct, there is no chance in hell that I could find anything using that method. I do how ever use the date method for backing up as it keeps the folder structure in a logical order, which is vital – always year/month/day. I then backup using blu ray and a second hardrive.
    I then organise my photos using keywords for batches of images eg family or client name and also giving final/chosen images a colour label. That way you can very quickly find the images I need.
    If you automatically write changes to XMP and use DNG then you can open the images in other software and it will keep all the metadata you have entered.

  31. Holger 18 July, 2013 at 01:59 Reply

    All keyword and color likers, how did you get all the keywords and attributes of your 10000+ photos into Lightroom 1.0?
    What can I do with my fully LR related organisation, if adobe pushes LR in the cloud, and I have to search another tool?

  32. Don 18 July, 2013 at 01:48 Reply

    Organizing by date is wrong? There is no wrong, there is no right, there is only different.

    I started organizing by date in 1975, when everything was shot on film, and the only thing the word “computer” conjured up was an image of a room the size of a basketball court full of vacuum tubes.

    I needed a way for clients (yes, clients) to tell me which frames they wanted printed, either original prints or reprints. The easiest way was with numbers. There were too many repeat customers and too many people/companies with similar names to use any other method. Because there were no personal computers, everything was entered by had in a 3 ring binder. Soon there were several binders.

    By using a numbering system based on date, I could reference each and every frame, and find a specific negative or transparency very easily. And it worked very, very well.

    I never shot stock. I suppose for someone who was shooting transparencies for stock, a system that worked off keywords might be better, but even then, how do you find a specific photo of a fire hydrant? Look up the key word “fire hydrant,” and there are the frame numbers for all the fire hydrants I’ve ever shot. All 20000 of them. But they still have frame numbers.

    Now it’s a matter of habit. What worked then, works now. But if I do want to see all of the photos I’ve shot of black bears, I go to the LR5 collection “Bears, Black”, and there they all are. No duplicate file names, just a bunch of black bears, arranged in whatever order I want (collections are usually ranked by star rating).

    Interestingly, whenever I find someone who is new to all this, and looking for a way to organize their growing stash of photos, 99% gravitate to a system based on dates. The then choose to either use LR5’s collections or keywords do the sorting.

    • Les Howard 18 July, 2013 at 08:45 Reply

      Exactly. And eventually the 3 ring binders became bookshelves then filing cabinets. With negatives stored in different binders than transparencies although they shared the same date based numbering system. I’ve now added digital and the system continues with absolutely NO duplicated file names.

      Furthermore, the file name tells me the exact location of the original slide, negative, or digital raw file.

      A separate card system was needed to catalog all the slides & negs.

      Nowadays, Lightroom keeps track of the cataloging.

    • TokyoJerry 18 July, 2013 at 15:46 Reply

      Don, in a word, ‘Amen’. I am almost right on with your way to organize and catalog. And, thanks for your comment and reinforcement. As you state, there is no right or wrong, only different ways of cataloging, organizing. The human brain works in strange ways as to how individuals perceive order within a chaotic universe. 🙂

      Basically you are implementing this universal, ‘chaos within organization’. The hierarchical, chronological date system is the order and keywords, tags, etc., the chaos.

      Personally don’t shoot film (hardly) any longer so I don’t deal with frames. I am not doing photography for a business. It is mostly for hobby, memories, recordkeeping. (Maybe I might start making money some day, but I don’t regard myself as ‘good enough’ yet. And, with digital era upon us, every one can be a photographer and extremely competitive (overly competitive) to make any money these days. Okay, having said that, back to the topic…..

      In my chaos within order universe it goes something like this:

      Camera to computer (original data)
      I always chronologically sequence my original data. To keep the number of items in a folder relatively small, my current folder / file structure goes something like this:

      / 2013 / 07 / 07-04 / YYYY-MMDD-HHMMSS-seq#.jpg (for files)
      / 2013 / 07 / 07-06 / YYYY-MMDD-HHMMSS-seq#.jpg (for files)
      / 2013 / 07 / 07-10 / YYYY-MMDD-HHMMSS-seq#.jpg (for files)
      / 2013 / 07 / 07-17 / YYYY-MMDD-HHMMSS-seq#.jpg (for files)
      / 2013 / 07 / 07-19 / YYYY-MMDD-HHMMSS-seq#.jpg (for files)

      An objective here while organizing is to avoid any one folder from getting too many items. Not sure of the maximum number of items in a folder but this allows me to get as general or specific about a date or data item I might want to find. For example, I know I took a vacation to Hawaii in June 2009. So, I know where to zero in.

      The file naming creates a unique ‘moment’ in the continuity of time. This ‘moment’ as I type for example, will never, ever return. It’s defined down to the hour, minute and second. A sequence number is appended is to accommodate sequential frame shooting (i.e., 5, 7, 10, 12 frames / sec in burst mode). Most modern digital cameras have this function. So, the sequence number identifies a single shot (frame) within any given second.

      This is my logic for initial raw camera data to computer import. However, there is some redundancy here and I am thinking, how can I make this any simpler but still maintain specificity. Any idea, Don? One alternate idea I have in mind:

      / 2013 / 0704 / YYMMDD-seq#.jpg

      I would eliminate the time element in the file name and shorten the year in the file name. Also, I eliminate the month folder. This will still provide chronological ordering but will potentially create up to 365 (366) folders for each year. I don’t shoot every single day. I don’t know if that is too many or not, but there are times I’ve shot 300+ photos in a day if I shoot sequentially, HDR, etc. If a single file should ever get isolated, I know where it belongs. ( i.e., 130715-057.jpg) At the end of each month, individual date folders for a month could still be collectively regrouped into a month folder as an end of month task. ( /07 /08 / 09, etc)

      Editting / Post Production
      This is the stage where the chaos (keywords, tags, stars, flags, whatever) and order collections, come to together (somewhat). The former elements are all the random (chaotic) elements assigned to images, whereas collections, collection sets, is the attempt to create order with specific definitions.

      Collection Sets / Collections
      / EVENTS / nabshow2013
      / PLACES / thai-samutprakarn-zoo
      / PEOPLE / pinyo@rose garden
      / ETC / morning fruit bowl on table

      Export / Publication / Web / Sharing
      Finally, on export, publish, sharing, etc, I give real world file names for meaning to real world people:

      / PLACES /thai-samui-island-130130-001.jpg
      / PLACES /thai-samui-island-130130-002.jpg
      / PLACES /thai-samui-island-130130-003.jpg
      / PLACES /thai-samui-breakfast-130131-001.jpg
      / PLACES /thai-samui-breakfast-130131-002.jpg
      / PLACES /thai-samui-breakfast-130131-003.jpg
      / PLACES /thai-samuprakarn-zoo-130205-001.jpg
      / PLACES /thai-samuprakarn-zoo-130205-002.jpg
      / PLACES /thai-samuprakarn-zoo-130205-003.jpg

      Appending the 6-digit date still allows me to track back to original data location and the description defines meaning to people.

      This is more or less my flow, in a nutshell. Your thoughts? A better idea?

  33. Eric Porcher 18 July, 2013 at 00:48 Reply

    Can anyone give me a trick to help keep track of recently-edited work? Lightroom opens up to the last image I was working on in the last session, but then when I import new photos I lose that reminder of the last image I was working on. Is there a way to see ‘recent’ images I’ve edited? And really, not just the last session, but ideally maybe the last five or ten images I’ve edited. Thanks in advance!

  34. Craig Beyers 15 July, 2013 at 18:01 Reply

    I agree except those are keywords for me, not folder name choices. I wrestled with this problem a long time ago, trying both approaches. I finally settled on dates (for folder organization) AND full key wording as the solution. That way months later I don’t have to remember which folder to look in (usually because I can’t..CRS has set in

    • TokyoJerry 16 July, 2013 at 08:46 Reply

      Yeah, the best is a combination of hierarchy (= chronological time sequencing) and anarchy (= ad hoc keywording). This is pretty much where I am at in the organization process. The original data is permanent never intended to be touched. Thus, 2013-0716-223510.jpg (as I type 🙂 ) is a chronological point in time and history and also will never, ever return. The file was created at a very unique and specific point in time. So this system can be used to ‘permanentize’ (so-to-speak) a unique identifier in the organizational process. So, on import, the original data will get custom name treatment like:
      (could use YYYY-MMDD-Seq#.jpg to keep it simpler).

      Once in LR, keywording kicks in. Here I can define each item, or set of items as appropriate, with keywords.

      On export, the files are renamed to something descriptive because real world people can react to Thailand-alligatorshow-130202.jpg rather then 2013-0202-175035.jpg. Adding a 6-digit date at the end allows me to reference back to the original raw data quickly and easily if I want to do so for some reason.

  35. Craig Beyers 15 July, 2013 at 17:51 Reply

    File names are a different matter than folders. For example, a typical volleyball match file name would be something like this: GMUvsPrinceton20130417, but the images files are stored in a folder named “20130417”. That filename tells me the two schools and the date. I add keywords for the schools, men’s or women’s teams, and match location at import (and add a keyword for each primary player in each “picked” image). I keep the date in the file name, with a sequence number, when I export for posting/sharing on the web so parents, friends, and others can relate to the pictures (even though the JPEGs are posted to a gallery that has the date in the title). However, I guess I don’t really need the date in the exported file names. This approach works for me, but not necessarily for anyone else. Matt’s approach works for him and I certainly respect his experience and his different needs. YMMV!

    • TokyoJerry 15 July, 2013 at 18:00 Reply

      Imported original files are always kept in strict date chronological ordering. YYYY-MMDD-HHMMSS-seq#.jpg

      During edits, I will add keywords as per the photo content. One keyword is always a YYYY-MM for the entire lot.

      Exported content… I will name exported files for web sharing distribution with a keyword structure followed by a date.

      As you state, everyone has a unique approach which works best. For myself chronologically sequencing ‘original’ raw data, and then being more descriptive on export, which real world people will view and read, is my style.

  36. Craig Beyers 15 July, 2013 at 13:37 Reply

    Since I file by date, with extensive keywords and I use Collections, it’s easy: import with overall keywords (e.g., the event, location, etc.), define my picks and create a collection. This collection is not date-based, BTW. I might name it “Caribbean Photoshop Cruise” for the photos from all the dates of that cruise, including at-sea days, at-shore days, and all excursions across the entire cruise. Then I’d keyword photos appropriately, such as “Aruba”, “Curaçao”, “Photowalk”, “Sunset”, “Boats”, etc. This works for me and allows me to find images by keyword or date (if I can remember it, which I usually can’t!). Since this was a vacation, the photos from this cruise were in a collection in the Collection Set “Vacations”.

    • TokyoJerry 15 July, 2013 at 17:14 Reply


      I also completely agree with you on using a date scheme. I mentioned about this already in a couple posts above at length as to my scheme on how I deal with this. In short, each file has a unique chronologically sequenced identifier that can never be repeated with the passage of time. Matt might not be able to remember major events in his personal life, but generally i can. I know the month-year I graduated from high school, and university. I know I took a trip to Hawaii in 2006-10 and again 2009-06.

      Perhaps using dates and MattK’s desire to use descriptive words might be a good compromise to have the best of both worlds. Use a single descriptive keyword (or 2) as a mind joggler. i.e.


      The file name might get a bit long, but still doable, searchable, and still chronologically sequences the files. A contracted form could be:


      However, this still introduces the element of subjectivity as to keyword choice. And as you mention, if one can recall it later. Recalling dates however is not necessary though. It’s like walking. You don’t think about it, just do it. Automotion. And when I use dates, always use the general-to-specific for dates ALWAYS as is usually the case in Asia. In Europe and elsewhere, it’s a hodge podge of DDMMYYYY, MMDDYY, DDMMMYY. Confusing.

  37. Jim Reitz 15 July, 2013 at 13:19 Reply

    I think there are 2 types of people in the world: those who worry about silly folder names, and those who use keywords 🙂

  38. Derek 13 July, 2013 at 23:29 Reply

    If you import using folder names that are “descriptive” but then forget how you described something, how do you find it easily using finder if you have say, 1500 folder names? If you at least use some form of dates I believe most people can find things easier. I might forget if I called something “family camping”, “camping”, “rafting trip”, etc. but I will remember that it was last summer. I believe that folder naming convention is less about lightroom and more about file administration and backup. Lightroom has the feature set to handle any directory structure. If you look outside of photography to see how large volumes of files are handled, it’s nearly ALWAYS a best practice to leverage date based schemes.

    • mattk 15 July, 2013 at 10:42 Reply

      Dude. I went camping with my family this past spring (I think) and I have no idea what month it was. Maybe April? Maybe May? Maybe March? Who knows? It’d have to search through every date I took photos in March-May. I guess if you’re only shooting once a month that’s not bad, but I’m not. So looking under “Camping” makes absolutely perfect sense to me. It’s nearly ALWAYS a better practice to do what works for you 😉

      • Justin 15 July, 2013 at 11:17 Reply

        If you’re talking about a single camping trip, then your structure makes sense. On the other hand, what if you went camping at Lake Wenatchee for a family reunion where took family portraits. Does it go in Vacations>Camping, Locations>Lake Wenatchee, Events>2012 Family Reunion, or Portraits>Smith Family? How do you remember which of those you considered to be the most important topic a year from now? The date is the consistent piece of information across all of them and makes it a straightforward method of organization.

        Searching through the folders takes seconds with lightroom’s handy little preview window in the left column. Just move your mouse down over the folders in the date range you think it’s in and glance at the preview. Alternately, if using the preview takes too much time because you have that many folders in the time period you’re thinking of or if your first photo isn’t indicative of the subject you’re looking for, then use your keywords. You can assign all four of those subjects to your photos without having to make judgement calls about which one you might have thought was most important a year ago. I keyword place and people in all of my photo on the off chance that I can’t remember when I took the photos I’m looking for.

        • mattk 15 July, 2013 at 12:03 Reply

          Sorry Justin. There’s just no way that Date helps me find ANYTHING faster. Feel free to use it though. I just won’t recommend it to the people I teach at my seminars and in my videos.

          • Justin 15 July, 2013 at 12:18

            I get that it doesn’t help you, and I get that you aren’t going to teach it. I’m just saying that you call using it a mistake, which ignores the large numbers of users who find it effective. If it’s a mistake, it’s one that sure seems to work pretty well for a lot of people.

          • mattk 15 July, 2013 at 18:00

            It is a mistake to me Justin. I’d personally never recommend anyone start out in Lightroom (which is who the post is written for) with dates today. So in my mind (and hence my blog) its a mistake.

          • benpal 15 July, 2013 at 12:20

            I have pictures that I took some 30 or 40 years ago. No way to remember which year, let alone which month. Then I have a few hundred pictures that I scanned from negatives or prints that were taken by my parents and even grandparents and associated families. Do I remember the dates? Hell, I wasn’t even born.

          • Terry Garlow 18 July, 2013 at 11:27


            Sorry, but I say you are wrong calling it a “Mistake”.
            Lightroom is a very powerful organizational tool. Ultimately if you are going to use this power then it ultimately does not matter how photos are stored (date,subject or just one big mess). We are going to use Lightroom to organize our view and let that power help us to find what we are looking for.
            If you are not using something like Lightroom then how they are stored matters a lot. But we are after all talking about Lightroom here.

        • TokyoJerry 15 July, 2013 at 17:22 Reply

          I am with you on this one Justin. I also prefer dating for my life time chronological system of organization. Then, to attach the keywords as you point out provides me with the logical search parameter if I can not recall a date…. some ‘event’, ‘place’, ‘person’, or ‘etc’ (for adhoc items that can not be categorized elsewhere. That would be an item say I sell on Yahoo Japan auction (which I do a lot of). Then, keywords would be for auctioned item: ‘auction’, ‘hard disk’, ‘2013-07’. Those would all go in the ‘etc’ folder.

      • Mike Donahue 15 July, 2013 at 11:45 Reply

        For me I kind of have the same issues with sorting any of this stuff. How to decide which folder to put it in. At least with a date, it’s something concrete.

        I’ve never really necessarily liked the date method, but I get paralyzed with indecision about what folder to put stuff in sometimes.

        I am completely okay with moving away from my date format ways, but a question I’ve really been wondering is what does everyone do with their “catch all” kind of photos. Maybe just something that catches the eye, but isn’t a vacation/portrait/landscape type of thing??


        • TokyoJerry 15 July, 2013 at 17:29 Reply

          Michael, read my comment to Justin above. I think EVERY photo you ever take, receive, or scan can be categorized into one of five (5) major categorical groupings:

          Most every thing can fall under the first 3. ETC would be for photos I take that would not fall properly into the first three (i.e., auctions, ad hoc flower photos from the garden, test photos with new camera/lesn, etc.)
          OTHERS, would be content I acquire otherwise, from others’ cameras, trade shows, etc. If desired, the first four can also be recreated as a sub-set under OTHERS. So, fundamentally I break out all my categories into those four groupings which works for me.

    • William Beem 15 July, 2013 at 10:47 Reply

      Who says you have to be that descriptive? Why not use a higher level name, like “Vacation” or “Travel” for the folder? Doesn’t matter if you went camping or cruising. The date is in the metadata from the camera, so you can still sort using that criteria.

      I understand that you have a system that works for you, and that’s nice. Have you ever done anything different to see if something works better? At best, you improve. At worst, you reaffirm your current strategy.

      • TokyoJerry 15 July, 2013 at 17:40 Reply

        Very true. Higher level name descriptions will work. I think it is good to be exploratory and test the waters on a different organizational strategy. See if the ‘grass is greener’ on the other side of the fence so to speak. If a new strategy does not work, it reaffirms the current strategy.

        Not related to photographic organization, but I did exactly that when moving from an iPhone to see what life was like outside the ‘walled garden’ with Android. Initially it was cool. But after awhile, I became increasingly disenchanted on a number of issues which I will not belabor the matter. Now I am back on iPhone5 as a smart phone and am a happy camper.

        A higher-lvel hierarchical descriptive words is something I do for myself as I state above, I tend to use: ‘Event’, ‘Places’ (which could / would cover vacations) and ‘People’ and ‘Etc’. It works for me.

  39. Stijn 11 July, 2013 at 05:21 Reply

    I don’t agree on point 2, completely. I my structure I work with a folder for each new year and for each shoot, event, occasion I create a new subfolder which contains a number, the date (or first date in case of several days) and the name of location, events etc. All side information is stored and can be filtered by tags.
    Used your technique for several years, but in the end it was getting a mess. Let’s say you have a main folder ‘New York’ and a main folder ‘family’ for family events. In 2008 you go to New York for yourself, but in 2012 you have a family event there. Where would you put those photos? Depends what you find more important. But it can be a pain in the long term.
    About mixing flags and stars and labels: shouldn’t be a problem if you keep on using it for the same reason; Next to my screen I have a little note with the meaning of the stars and labels. 5 stars go into personal portfolio. Green label is for photo album client, red needs extra editing in photoshop. Not a waterproof system if you want to combine several colors to the same photo (next LR version?). In the rare case I need that, I use a virtual copy.

  40. TokyoJerry 8 July, 2013 at 23:21 Reply

    In my organization style and strategy, I use chronological date sequencing and keywords either prior to or after import. Allow me to explain.

    I use dates for defining files in a chronological sequence. If I am on a trip and take 500 photos, most likely I will have multiple activities on multiple days involving different people. I don’t want to have to start defining on each import, collection names for the images. Keywords are ‘key’ for me here. Using my trip to Thailand as an example, I took 500 photos. What I will do on import is use a chronological sequenced, custom file name to maintain consistency, using the custom template. My template: YYYY-MMDD-HHMMSS-Sequence#. Actually, I can do without the sequence number but I include that for those occasions I might do high speed shooting and I will have multiple photos for any given second. (I don’t know if LR can deal with that properly if I don’t specify a sequence number). What this chronological file naming convention does for me is, it provides a very unique ‘identifier’ for each and every photo I may ever shoot in a lifetime. Every file name will always have a unique and sequential identity… YYYY-MMDD-HHMMSS which will never again return in the course of natural time flow. THEN, the keywords kick it. On any given import I will assign automatically YYYY-MM as one keyword. This assigns a year/month keyword for every photo I’ve taken in that month. For example, I remember I went to Hawaii in June 2009. I can use the 2009-06 to quickly find those files. In my earlier Thailand trip example, I would also add Thailand to the whole import batch as well, since, all the files collectively were shot while in Thailand. Then, what I will do is, do a quick skim over the 500 photos and find groups of event-specific images adding keywords to those groupings. One day I might have visited the floating market. I would keyword that subset of images with ‘floating market’, for example. On another day, I visit tiger temple. I will tag that subset of images with ‘tiger temple’. I don’t necessarily feel I have to do this exhaustively for every last image, but just enough to keyword major events / activities of the trip. Then, later, I am able to go back and search later on my assigned keywords. I do keywording either prior to, or after import, either way. Since the keywords ‘ride along’ with the images as metadata, it resolves the concern stated in point #2 raised in the article about what happens if one should stop using Lightroom down the road. It doesn’t matter. The metadata (= keywords) will still tag along with your images even if the LR-specific collections do not, regardless what new application you want to move on to. And, by using this chronological date sequencing, I have a very systematic way of find all my original files down the road going forward without having to concern myself with descriptive file names every time I do an import. What is important here is to develop a system that works and also be consistent with it. I think consistency here is important. When it comes time to export the images after post production work, then whichever of the 500 I want to export (say I trim down to 150) that is where I will start to apply descriptive file names. The original data will always remain chronologically and numerically sequenced. The exported files will then get a descriptive file name: ‘custom-text-YYYYMM (i.e., thai-zoo-201302) By having this sort of filename, I can quickly go back to original data knowing it was taken in February 2002, which is all preserved chronologically on my server.

    The exported (post production) files will then be uploaded, published or preserved locally in one of 4 or 5 main categorical folders: ETC, EVENTS, PEOPLE, PLACES, OTHERS. ETC would be for any thing adhoc… clipart, photos of flowers, whatever. OTHERS would be for content that did not originate from my own camera. Photos taken and given to me from someone else’s camera, etc. The majority of photos can then be insert as subfolders in one of the other 3 categories, based on people, places or events: PLACES -> THAILAND -> Samutprakarn Zoo / filename (thai-zoo-201302).

    • Les Howard 9 July, 2013 at 14:02 Reply

      Hi, Jerry. You said keywords are stored in image file metadata. I think you are mistaken about that. The keywords that you apply in LR are stored in the LR catalog. They do not get added into the metadata until you export the file. Perhaps MattK can clarify this for us.

      I also use a date based system so you might like to check my other comment above. The long-winded part below describes my system in more detail. It’s very similar to yours but my names are more compact.

      My naming system also guarantees unique file names and keeps the original image files in chronological order. For me, a typical file name looks like this (I use a preset to generate it):
      where D means the original was digital (other letters are used for various film types); 13 is the last 2 digits of the year (I don’t expect to be shooting for more than 100 years although my original filing system starts with 1971); 123 is a ‘shoot sequence number’ within the year (I could have made this a 4 digit number but I don’t expect to do more than 999 shoots in a year although I have occasionally used several shoot numbers in a single day); and 0456 is the file sequence number assigned by the camera (I reformat the memory card before it is reused so the number gets reset to zero). Each of those numeric fields is always the same number of digits with leading zeros if needed.

      It’s easy to keep backups. Simply copy new shoot folders to your backup external hard drive. On exit, tell LR to save a backup copy of the catalog to the same external drive.

      On import, the file goes into a file structure that looks like this:
      Digital Pictures > D13 > D13-123 > D13-123-0456
      I usually apply text to the end of the shoot folder name so I know generally what’s in there, for example “D13-123 Painted trlliums Algonquin”. I could easily eliminate the year and shoot folders but having them in a structure like this keeps all the individual folders to manageable sizes. Can you imagine saving 25,000+ pictures in one folder then trying to find something without using LR? Also don’t forget that you can make that same folder structure visible to you inside LR.

      On export, the file gets a title appended so I can more easily identify it but it is saved to a folder named ‘LR Exports’. I then print the file or put it on the web or an email or whatever. Then I delete it from the export folder – I do not keep my final exported versions anywhere. I know that if I ever need another copy I can simply go back to LR and export it again. Why waste the disk space? If for some reason I need different export versions of the same file. say one color and one black& white, I use virtual copies.

      I get what you’re doing with your category folder system but did you know that you can easily create that system within LR using Special Collections? – and save disk space because you no longer need the exported files?

      Sorry to be a bit long-winded here but it seems to me that you’re doing a bunch of stuff you may not need to do.

      • TokyoJerry 10 July, 2013 at 22:53 Reply

        Hi Les:

        Media Organization

        Thanks much for your valuable and informative feedback. It generate some food for thought as well as some new commentary and questions. Here goes…

        Thanks for clarifying the storage location of keyword metadata. I am still relatively ‘green’ with LR so I was not aware of that. I wish there were some universal program (or method) that would allow for this universally. Creating logical file names and hierarchical systems is good to a certain degree, but tagging and keywording further refines data retrieval because we, as human beings, tend to remember something about some one or some where or some thing, even if we don’t remember every thing. So, I wish that even at the OS (Windows, OS-X) level that would happen. I think Apple has plans to incorporate tagging in the upcoming OS-X Mavericks. If this comes to fruition, that’ll be a good thing. Back to LR, OK, so thanks for clearing that point up for me. That now gives me pause to reconsider on how I will handle this. For now, I will continue with status quo as LR allows one to keyword media quite easily and efficiently and I don’t plan to discontinue it’s usage any time soon. Still, I have that small element of ‘cold feet’ with ‘what if’, I should every move on from LR (Adobe decides to make that only cloud-based for example, which would be an irritant), if I decide to move on to another application, there would not be any universal tags nor keywords to take advantage of. Hmm….

        In your prior message……
        The folder name has a descriptive tag appended, for example ‘ArchesNP’ or ‘Smith-Jones Wedding’, so I can see at a glance what images are in it.
        END QUOTE

        This is good. The problem I have though with descriptive tagging versus the absolute of date-based system is, there is no systematic approach to creating descriptive tags. Every one has their own methodology on this. I tried several times and several ways only to become flustered and give up and re-contrive one more time. i.e.,
        EVENTS / award ceremony / keyword1-keyword2-YYYYMMDD.jpg
        PLACES / US / hawaii vacation / keyword1-keyword2-YYYYMMDD.jpg

        That did not last long. What I currently do now for my original, uneditted data is:

        YYYY/ MM / MM-DD / YYYY-MMDD-HHMMSS-Seq#.jpg

        This perhaps might be a little bit of overkill from your perspective, but for now I feel comfortable with this. Perhaps I’m doing a little bit of too much dating, so to speak, and I could probably shorten the style to a more manageable date form factor.


        As per your naming system example I don’t think I would need to use the letter ‘D’ to define digital for one thing. The reason being is, all my shooting is digital in the first place. I don’t use film at all anymore. Also, using two digits to represent the year maybe okay for now being that we are well into the 21st century. But back around the turn-of-the-century when we were still dealing with 1990s and 2000, it was still too confusing to go ahead and use only two digits. So I stuck with using four digits to make it very clear and distinct. But anyway, looking at your model, perhaps I can get by with just using two digits instead of four digits to indicate the year. After all, I don’t expect to be around recording images 100 years later from now. 🙂 Having said that however, whether it’s 100 years or 1000 years the 4-digit system is still very absolute and specific whereas a two digit system overtime would become ambiguous.

        A shoot sequence number for myself, introduces subjectivity and ambiguity. It would be great if everybody used that same system, but everybody doesn’t. But then, ultimately what matters is, if it works for you and how you locate data. I still would really like to use a single keyword or two as part of the filename, and yet still be able to look up my data quickly and easily in some kind of chronological form by using the date. Perhaps, one thought along that line, would be to use a format something like: YYYY / MM / YYMMDD-keyword1-keyword2.jpg. It would be something similar to what you just described by placing text at the end of the filename. By using a four digit year and a two digit month for folders and subfolders, it tends to eliminate creating too many folders or multimedia items in a single folder. I don’t think I would ever save 25,000 items in a single folder. 🙂 I get nervous just by having four or 500 items in a single folder. Oh yes, in my recent exploration and discovery inside lightroom, I did discover you can have your folder and subfolders structure display from your computer on the left-hand side panel in lightroom. With that along with creating keywords and also collections really makes it very easy to navigate through all your data.

        Unlike you, I do keep my exported data. The reason being is because I maintain my own NAS device, a network attached storage in my home-office. When I export something out to Facebook, or Flickr, or Google plus, I also have that same data available via my own server and available through the Internet as well. So for that reason, I do not delete my own exported files. Having my own server also makes my data available via the iPhone or iPad and other mobile devices anywhere anytime anyplace. Considering I have about 12 TB of available space at home, I’m not too worried about exporting data or wasting space so to speak. 🙂 Besides, when I export, I usually make it a smaller version as opposed to the original data files. I usually export out a 72 dpi which is more than enough for browser viewing and screen resolution. I also reduce the original 4000 or 5000 dpi image down to 2000 dpi on the long edge. You mentioned that if you ever need a copy of the file you can always go back to light room to re-export the file. Another words, that means that light room maintains all the original edits for each of your original files even if you don’t have the exported files any longer? I guess that is what the purpose of the light room catalog is all about. I guess the only thing you have to be concerned about then is that you do not change the filenames or their locations subsequent to doing it at work on those files. Or, if you do change the locations and/or the filenames that information I guess will also be preserved in the light room catalog right?

        Okay, thanks once again Les. I look forward to a good exchange via this blog. It seems to be quite an interesting blog to participate in.

      • Terry Garlow 18 July, 2013 at 10:58 Reply

        Initially keywords are stored in Lightroom, However under the Metadata menu you can tell Lightroom to “Save Metadata to file”. Depending on the file format the information will be written into the file directly (jpg dng) or stored in a sidecar file (raw).

    • J Tubb 1 November, 2013 at 11:11 Reply

      I agree with the YYYYMMDD_HHMMSS_(sequence # if you shoot auto racing, etc)_BriefDescription (such as BikeGreece or just Greece if doing things other than biking). Why? When my we go on trips with family and friends, I can take all their photos, organize as stated and get a sequential output that visually describes our trip. It keeps the day of biking in City1 separated from the day of biking in CountryArea2 and the day of snowshoeing in MountainRange1 separated from the day of snowshoeing in MountainRange2, for example. Otherwise, the photos from different cameras or phones would have different date formats, etc. The story line becomes lost.

  41. Michael 8 July, 2013 at 15:38 Reply

    Matt I couldn’t agree with you more. KISS
    K eep
    I t
    S imple
    S tupid

    I have two catalogs: one is called Edit and the other one is called Library and that’s it the images that don’t make it to the Library Cat vanish to the RAW file grave yard.
    And yes I’m a professional commercial, travel and Lifestyle photographer.



    • Michael 8 July, 2013 at 15:43 Reply

      Foot note to the above not:

      All my images are in our data base going back to 1977 (yes I’m that old) well over 5 million images.

  42. Dan Clark 8 July, 2013 at 14:41 Reply

    I have 36,142 images going back to 2000 (13 years) – all loaded into folders by year and then by day. For organization, I apply keywords and use collections extensively.

    Technically, the issue being raised is metadata. The problem is coming up with a metadata scheme that fits your needs and whose naming semantics you understand. I’m a data warehouse architect by profession. I’ve lived metadata and naming semantics every day for the last 20 years. It is and always has been a major issue for all database jocks.

    The underlying problem with defining metadata is that you do NOT understand your overall metadata needs until after you’ve lived with the data for a while. BUT… You need to define your metadata needs to organize your data BEFORE you understand those needs.

    For example, you create a folder for “Grandson’s First Birthday”. Great! Then his second birthday rolls around and then you create “Grandson’s Second Birthday”. Hmmm… Starting to get a bit messy. By his fourth birthday, you have multiple folders. And then…

    Grandson #2 comes along. Hmmm… Now your metadata (implied by the folder name) is messed up. So… Do you rename the folders to be “Grandson’s Birthdays”? Maybe “Grandsons”? What happens if a Granddaughter pops out?

    As you live your life, your needs, ideas, and constraints change, and then your needs for better metadata gets more and more complex. But with context naming structure (like “Vacation to Hawaii”) you’re stuck with that.

    After using Lightroom since 2008 (V1.0) and Photoshop for several years before that, I went through several iterations of metadata, including organizing by context. I found that organizing by date (import does that automatically) and then applying keywords and using collections provided an easy-to-maintain, flexible metadata structure that doesn’t require a lot of maintenance. And, most importantly, virtually all maintenance is done within Lightroom.

    FYI… Within the last year, I’ve started using Lightroom to manage my videos. All photos and videos are imported and organized using Lightroom into dated folders. Since photos and videos are used across multiple video projects, it’s relatively easy to track them down.

    Each to his own, but I’ve found that date organization is the only long-term metadata solution that doesn’t require a lot of maintenance.



    • TokyoJerry 9 July, 2013 at 19:25 Reply

      Dan, I also could not agree with you more. I have been using a date system as well (see my long-winded explanation below under ‘TokyoJerry’). Time is absolute and a continuum in life. That’s how I look at it. Every single photo has a unique identifier that’s good for life (and beyond). 🙂 If you have time, have a read of what I wrote to preclude rehashing the same content here. I’d surely like to hear your thoughts on how I handle media files organization.

      You also gave me a new, rather, good and interesting idea. I also shoot video and have not seriously used Lightroom for that up til now. (all it does is trim, set poster frames, and export). But I have been wondering how to treat the organization of video data as well. Apply my exact chronological time sequencing I already do with images? Break out the media by type? Video folders and Photos. But, as with your grand children example, that could start getting a bit messy.

      Maybe MattK can do a blog or article on video processing and organization, although that is not a strength of LR. I personally use either FCP or Premiere Elements for video edits. Maybe LR will bring more video capability into a future release, who knows.

  43. Craig Beyers 8 July, 2013 at 13:17 Reply

    And remember Collection Sets, too, for grouping like and similar photos. They’re very useful in conjunction with simple and Smart Collections.

  44. Will Hastings 8 July, 2013 at 01:18 Reply

    Hi Matt,

    these tips are semi helpful, but what I would really like to see is a post called, so your lightroom catalog is a mess… here is how to fix it. I have eventually adopted most of your recommendations but didn’t do so from the get go and now my light room is a mess. I am using my transition to lightroom 5 as an excuse to try to get things under control, but it is proving to be quite an undertaking.

  45. Steve Lerch 7 July, 2013 at 13:29 Reply

    I sort by date. But I also put in all sorts of metadata when I import. Instead of looking for a FOLDER called New York, I would just do the metadata search for New, York, New York or whatever. Then sort by flagged (or not) and you have what you need. That’s the way MY brain works best.

  46. William Beem 6 July, 2013 at 18:34 Reply

    Wow! After hearing about this while watching a replay of The Grid this week, I had to stop in here and check out all of the comments. People seem to love their dates.

    I’m afraid I’ve never used dates to name folders or projects, though. As you say, that information is already in the metadata, so why recreate it? The information that isn’t in the metadata is what describes the photo.

    I have top level areas for Travel, Portraits, Events and other things. If I want to see my photos of Zion National Park, they’re under Travel. If I want to see my portraits of someone, they’re in a folder under Portraits with the name of the subject. It works very well and it’s easy to find. Naturally, all of these folders are under one directory folder called Photos.

    One person commenting above mentioned tracking photos of a child. I still don’t see why dates make that easier. I’d have a folder for Family and use a keyword to tag images with the child (since there are likely photos with multiple family members). Then it’s easy to create a Smart Collection to show your precious child and sort the images by date.

    I guess there are many ways to skin a cat, but I prefer simplicity. Dated folder names can grow very unwieldy because it keeps changing. Having a folder named Family is simple – one place for the people you treasure the most.

    The post looks like solid advice to me. Folks, sometimes you may want to take a step back and try a different idea for a test. Just give it a shot. You may like it or you may double-down on your old strategy. At least try to have an open mind. You may like it.

    • Steve S 7 July, 2013 at 23:38 Reply

      So your Zion photos didn’t include any portraits? And you never take portraits of family members? As I said earlier, nearly every photos fits into multiple categories, and as the photo library grows, the number of categories grows as well, and deciding which category to use for an image becomes more difficult. Whereas with a date-based system, the decision is immediate and unambiguous. Add keywords for all the appropriate categories, and you can create smart collections for any of them—or any combination. Moreover, a lot of my searches involve things like “Dave’s birthday” or “last July 4th”, etc. where I can jump right to an individual folder almost immediately based on my date-based system. I can’t help but think that categories are used by people with small libraries. I’d like to hear from a category fan with a library of several hundred thousand images and how they decide where to place a new image.

      • William Beem 8 July, 2013 at 06:53 Reply

        While my Zion trip didn’t include portraits there are times when I travel and the photos from the trip may result in multiple categories. For example, a trip to Photoshop World may include Travel, Portraits and Events (like the Concert Pre-con). I load the photos into the pertinent categories.

        When I look for a portrait, I still go to the Portraits folder. Doesn’t matter that I took it while traveling at some event. The primary subject is Portrait, not September. Besides, the date is already in the photo. Why duplicate that effort when it’s done for me and I can easily sort on that metadata?

        By the way, I do have a couple hundred thousand photos. It would be a farce to load them by date and then try to find the images I want. That’s why I use top level categories.

        Let me give you another example. I was recently contacted by a company based in Washington D.C. with an interest in licensing my photos of the area for use on their web site. I’ve made a few trips to D.C. All I have to do is go to Travel->Washington D.C. and review my best shots to give him some choices. Quick, simple and effective.

    • Justin 8 July, 2013 at 10:54 Reply

      After watching the episode of the grid that mentions this post, they made it sound like this was a nasty bed of squabbling disrespectful infighting. Sheesh, this is one of the most polite comment threads on the internet with people respectfully disagreeing.

      I will say that the episode clarified Matt’s point for me and I misinterpreted it to his and Scott Kelby’s usual promotion of collections. I can see the benefit of the organization structure he’s espousing to some, but still find it frustrating that he describes date based as a mistake. I’d say this thread has made it clear that date based is a functional and efficient option for a large number of photographers.

      You say you prefer simplicity, I find date based organization simple and coming up with meaningful subjective categories complex. For example, my wife and I both use lightroom, I might place a photo under portraits because the focus is on the people in the photo, she might place the same photo under Paris because the photo was taken on our trip to Paris. Or we can both be aware that the photo was taken in May of 2011 when we went to Paris. That’s functional simplicity to me.

      I guess I’m saying is that it would be nice if Matt would acknowledge in his articles that there are two functional systems of organization that both have benefits depending on your mindset. Let folks know that categorical is his preference and why, but don’t just dismiss the date format.

      • Justin 8 July, 2013 at 11:04 Reply

        And since I forgot to add it, please don’t take what I’ve said as an implied disrespect toward Matt. I follow his blog because he’s pretty dang awesome at Lightroom and I’ve picked up quite a lot from him over the years. I’ve just disagreed on this point for a long time.

      • Stephen Cupp 8 July, 2013 at 12:05 Reply

        Also you have to remember that like most blogs the comments are moderated. So the real nasty stuff pointed towards Matt never show up here for us to read.

      • mattk 8 July, 2013 at 14:35 Reply

        Hey Justin – in your eyes there’s only 2 functional systems. But there’s probably a 100 if you really look at it. For better or worse, my goal is not to write about all of the different ways that you “could” do something. And it’s not to write about the ways that “you” may do something. That’s not the way I personally choose to teach. I simply show people the ways that I do something. From there, you can choose to follow it or not.
        Oh, and I agree with you – I didn’t think this was a bad discussion at all. I thought, as far as disagreements go, this was a very friendly discussion. I’ve been teaching this topic long enough that I knew this was coming so it wasn’t a surprise to me, nor was I offended 🙂

        • Justin 8 July, 2013 at 15:07 Reply

          Hi Matt, you make a good point, as it’s been shown here even the date format has tons of variation. But the majority do seem to come down to subject vs date organization.

          My frustration comes in is that from the first days of lightroom when I started following your blog, it seems like you’ve always come down hard on organization by date as a bad way to do things and taught that collections are wonderful simple things to use.

          In the end, all I’m trying to say is that a good percentage of users come down on the side of dates and that I disagreed with your point that using them is a big mistake. A lot of us do find them intuitive to use. Heck, if they’re such a bad way to organize, I question why Adobe continues to have organization by date as a default import format? That being said, I generally love your blog and appreciate the response to my comment!

      • Paul Gomes 24 May, 2014 at 22:19 Reply

        My import folders are all by date, as I never bothered changing the Canon defaults. This system does make it very obvious if you are missing files…since there will be a gap in dates – if say you forgot to import photos that you had moved off your camera to some other storage for instance. Also, it ensures you will not run into duplicate filenames (while a folder simply named “NYC” covering many years of visits to NYC could end up with filename conflicts.)

        But as to accessing of finding photos, many people here are correct that the physical storage system is in many way irrelevant. I use a photo library/catalogue for that very purpose. It doesn’t matter how my files are stored on disk as long as I can find them within lightroom, and within lightroom you can use many other options.

        With my music library, I originally stored music in folders by genre, which ended up being a lot of work moving files around. Now I just have one master folder with subfolders for each band and each album within that (this structure is auto-generated). I don’t care exactly where the file is, as long as my library knows…and it does.

  47. Andres Howard 6 July, 2013 at 11:40 Reply

    Matt, I couldn’t agree more with you. Organizing by date FOR ME is a mess, it just makes it more difficult to find files.

    I think the best way is just to keep it simple, let Lightroom do the difficult part. You want to see the pictures of your trip to NYC?, go to travel – NYC that’s it! You don’t need difficult folder names and structures, the goal is to be able to find the file easily, not to have a complex system for you to do the search.

  48. Les Howard 6 July, 2013 at 00:37 Reply

    I’ve been using a date-based system for filing my physical film-based images since about 1971. When I transitioned to digital, I continued using the same system although the images are now stored on disks instead of in filing cabinets. When I import images into LR I use presets to define the folder and file names which are date-based. The folder name has a descriptive tag appended, for example ‘ArchesNP’ or ‘Smith-Jones Wedding’, so I can see at a glance what images are in it.

    It is important to distinguish that is the physical location of the images and I don’t need LR to find them. I also use keywords and collections to create a logical organization of the images. The logical organization could be by subject or by customer name or by stock agency placement or anything else I might dream up.

  49. Michael 5 July, 2013 at 18:46 Reply

    I organize by date and I wish that I hadn’t started that way (back in 2006). A friend of mine suggested that I organize by year and subject but I already had a thousand images or so and it seemed like too much work to organize them differently. Now it’s at least 100,000 images and the reorganizing task would be huge.

    Lightroom makes it easy to import by date otherwise I would’ve changed by now.

  50. Lee Pelling 5 July, 2013 at 17:26 Reply

    I been using Lightroom for a few years and find like you the easiest way is to use just descriptive folder names and I store all my images in there and all the ones I process and export to tiffs and jpegs also go in same folder then I use the filter menu to find them it’s simple. It’s as easy or as complicated as you want to make it.

  51. Ralph Mendez 5 July, 2013 at 15:41 Reply

    Matt. Love the comment on organizing pics by date. I have done this from the beginning. Had photoshop since 3.3 and lightroom from 1. I am an ex programmer. I teach the 3 tier system. Year, category, and subject. Been doing this since the beginning. Never understood the key name stuff. All my files are like that. Thanks for your validation. Go Matt!

  52. Mike 4 July, 2013 at 13:06 Reply

    I’m another Date sorter in my filing, year and month. Whenever I’ve thought about sorting more by categories, but I’ve always been stumped by what to do with those images that don’t fit in to those neat little boxes like big trips and events do. General categories like landscape, people and such don’t catch all of this either. So I’ve stuck with the Date system since I tend to remember when much of this stuff happened anyway. Can anyone suggest a way to file these “slip through the cracks” images?

    Like many others, I use and sort by keywords in Lightroom. I do also love to use collections to sort. It’s actually where I tend to collect the “Events” into one place.

  53. CameraDude 4 July, 2013 at 06:28 Reply

    The reason people organize by date is because it allows for an extremely consistent system. You can set up an import template and it will always be consistent and you can have Lightroom do all the date folder creation, auto-renaming, and auto-organizing for you. An objective system like this allows for better consistency than a potentially subjective ones, based on location, subject, etc. Afterall, this is really just about getting the files onto storage in a consistent manner. Then Collections and Keywords can be used for subjective grouping and subject tagging/searching, respectively.

    I highly recommend:

    YYYYMMDD Descriptive Slug

    Where #### is the file number suffix (in case you have to match file names with handwritten field notes). If not, then sequential numbering or the image time works fine for that portion too.

    But by using the dated file names and folders, if I were to have have a loose file name or a client emailing me saying that he wants X file, I can *always* find where it is and where its related files are.

  54. Deb Scally 3 July, 2013 at 19:24 Reply

    Hey Matt, I may not agree with every assumption in the post for my own personal use, but I DO appreciate your opening the forum to this discussion! Personally, I love photography because of my creative, right brain side, but I admit I sometimes second guess my organizational processes (left brain) and like to feel that I have an efficient system. So it’s great to hear other’s solutions to compare, contrast, and learn.

  55. Jim Reitz 3 July, 2013 at 16:32 Reply

    Also, RE:#2 – my raw files are just organized by date folders on import. If you – or others – need to browse the files outside of LR, then there’s a decent argument for having more descriptive structure. But in my case, those raw files really are RAW files. None of my other family members have the need (or proper software) to access Camera RAW files in the first place. For them, I publish sets of JPEGs in folders on a household server, by year, each with a meaningful folder name (“Trip to Disneyland”).

    Increasingly, even these folders are being ignored in favor of albums published to Facebook and/or Picasaweb (now Google+).

  56. Jim Reitz 3 July, 2013 at 16:20 Reply

    RE:#4 – I never used Collections as a purely organizational tool; I only really used them when creating a set of images to be shared or published. Now that we have great Publishing tools in LR, I almost never use old-school Collections at all. Published Albums have completely taken their place.

  57. Tim 3 July, 2013 at 15:56 Reply

    When it comes to organizing my photos I considered two points. Organizing outside of Lightroom and organizing in Lightroom. I decided I needed a clean and simple organization to my files (on my harddrive) no matter what sofware program I used to process my images. I use year/month/day files system on my hard drives. I don’t see my photography as an account statement either. I see it as a timeline. I import that timeline into LR adding keywords and using metadata and collections within LR to bring photos together for my purposes. If at some point, I decide LR no longer serves my needs I have a basic file structure easily picked up by another program. All the metadata you use to organize within LR is with the photos. The only thing you lose is collections.

  58. Craig Beyers 3 July, 2013 at 07:23 Reply

    Since I shoot RAW, I don’t share any of those files with anyone. To share images, I simply export processed files to JPEGs and post them on the web or email/message individual images. That way people only need access to my site with any device–computer, tablet, phone, etc.–and don’t need LR. I share photos for every volleyball match and many of my “customers” view the images over smart phones. My approach works for them and my workflow supports that approach. YMMV!

  59. benpal 3 July, 2013 at 06:47 Reply

    Funny how so many defend their “by date” organization, going thru the trouble of renaming files to include the date in the name.
    The only reason I use folders (by Theme: family, Florida, ocean, climbing) is to keep files together to handle them OUTSIDE of Lightroom, such as sharing them with my family who doesn’t have Lightroom. They don’t care about the date, they want the picture to enjoy.

    For the rest I rely entirely on intelligent keywording.

    Anyway, whatever suits you, use it. You don’t have to defend it. Matt’s suggestions are just that: suggestions, valuable ones at that.

    • Justin 3 July, 2013 at 10:07 Reply

      When the title of the article isn’t 5 suggestions, it’s 5 mistakes, then they aren’t “just that”. It calls out an organizational system that many people use very effectively, so a little defense isn’t a bad thing. Especially when most of them haven’t been antagonistic responses, but descriptions of how date organization works simply.

      Collections may work for some people, but the responses let other readers that his “mistakes” aren’t necessarily as bad as he describes them. Many photographers find the collection system cumbersome and the dated folders system efficient, and I for one would appreciate it if that was acknowledged rather than dismissed.

  60. Frank Courtney 3 July, 2013 at 06:14 Reply

    Well Matt – you were certainly right when you mentioned there being a lot of disagreement over organising by date !

    I have both Business & Personal top level folders for my photos. For the Business ones – I pretty much always know the exact date for them – so date is easy, relevant and important. I also tag on the name or details of the assignment at the end of the folder e.g. 2013_06_01_AcmeHeadshots

    In LR – I also have keywords and metadata to find what I want and organise appropriately. However, my folder naming/structure also makes it easier to find things outside LR, and gives me extra options in LR.

    For multi-day personal photos and trips, I will sometimes move them to a single folder with the date of the trip start – personally I find it easy to remember that I went to London in January – so 2013_01_15_London makes sense to me.

  61. Jon Reid 3 July, 2013 at 03:03 Reply

    Hey Matt

    I sort my images by date. My typical folder structure looks like this: Photos > 2013 > 2013 07 03 Campania

    Within the Campania folder which would be dated from the start of my trip, I’ll have sub folders with specific locations (Sorrento, Amalfi, Capri, etc.)

    When I import, I make sure I tag the location with key words, so I always have the option of exploring the specific dated folder or clicking on 2013 and looking for photos tagged Campania.

    I’m only a travel photographer, but if I was doing weddings, I would tag the images Campania, travel and Campania, weddings to help make the distinction later.

  62. Michael 3 July, 2013 at 01:00 Reply

    I think point #2 is approached the wrong way. If you really are using LR as your database tool then it does not matter at all how you save the file on the HD and how you name them. The metadata filters, keywords and collections do all and much much more and better than any folder structure. Why put photos in a Disney folder when you can have a keyword?
    What I go on a week long trip and visited 2 dozen different places? I have to import my photos 12x times to have them placed in named folders? Or move photos around post-import?
    Folders can be handy to distinguish processed from non-processed photos or to handle different catalogues.
    I import by date cause it is done automatically and structures things a bit. On top of that I have a folder where unprocessed are waiting.
    The only argument for a folder structure of any kind is if you want find move copy files without LR but then that runs against #1

  63. Steve S 2 July, 2013 at 23:35 Reply

    To me, dates are the only system that allows you to immediately know where an image should be filed. If you file by topic and you take a shot of your kid while on vacation in Monument Valley at sunset while on vacation traveling by motorcycle with your friends the Stevensons, do you file it under landscape, desert, vacation, family, sunset, motorcycles, road trips, Stevenson, or…what?

    All those subject classifications can be handled by keywords—which is what they are for. Any image will fall into multiple overlapping categories. Date is the only system where a photo goes into one and only one place.

    I can’t see how any other system won’t lead to an incoherent mess once you’ve been at it for 10+ years and 250k+ images.


    • David 3 July, 2013 at 09:51 Reply

      Steve, I concur with your method, same as Justin mentioned. I’ve been using it for years and have not had a problem finding images/sessions/projects regardless of when they were shot.

    • Rick Urbanowski 3 July, 2013 at 12:24 Reply

      Amen Steve!
      The Mayans and the universe figured out how to organize things long before we started tasking our kids to Disneyland!

    • Bruce 22 July, 2013 at 14:53 Reply

      Steve: Previously, I would have filed that event under the following using a folder structure:
      >>>Monument Valley

      And I would dump every picture taken on that trip, into that folder.

      The new, hopefully better way is to do as you said, and add all those keywords: sunset, motorcycles, family, vacation, etc.

      I don’t understand why people would want to use date to name their photos, when this information is already in the file? Not sure about iOS (I suspect this is behind part of the reason), but with Windows, you have always been able to see both the date the photo was taken and modified, as a separate field (in addition to size, etc), so I have never seen the need to re-write this information and duplicate it, and “waste” a file name that can be more meaningful.

      But to each their own I guess…as long as LR allows us to use the system that makes most sense to each person, that is what is most important.

  64. Rex Maximilian 2 July, 2013 at 22:18 Reply

    Good tips. I agree with all–but “strongly” disagree with #3.

    I am currently going through 1600 photos I took over the weekend at a Pet Expo event. I did pet portraitures there. If I were to only rely on flags, I’d be very limited on how I could sort them.

    I use flags for choosing the photos when first going through the lot. After flagging the ones that are candidates for post-processing, I then sort by flagged items and inspect closer for clarity, exposure and composition. I then rate them. Five stars are tack sharp and at the top of the heap for immediate work. The others are for whatever reasons, still usable, but not in the first round of editing. Or, they may be items that I will get a specific area to fix a five star photo with. To not be able to sort flagged photos because you want to keep it simple by not using ratings is very, very limiting.

    Finally, labels. This again is incredibly useful to me. I use color to visually show me what status each photo is currently in. No color means they have not been adjusted yet. Yellow means that a RAW file has been modified with Development adjustments already and is ready to port out to Photoshop for further editing. Red means that Development has begun, but is still in progress. Green means that either a RAW file or PSD file has been completely post-processed and is in “final” stage, or ready for “prime time!”

    I understand your wanting to keep things simple, but c’mon man! I think we are all smart enough to logically use the available tools that Adobe has given us for sorting our files. You and Kelby are the creme de la creme of photo tutors. This is why it is so shocking to me that you are taking this approach. Please forward this comment to him and try to “see the light” using Lightroom sorting features.

    • Stephen Cupp 3 July, 2013 at 11:08 Reply

      The fact that it took you a couple paragraphs to define how you use these things make it so you “have a very specific and advanced workflow”. He is saying if you are new and don’t have a system yet don’t use stars for one shoot, then flags on another shoot, and then colors on a third.

  65. Justin 2 July, 2013 at 21:35 Reply

    You and Scott Shelby have both been evangelizing collections over date folders for years but they still don’t make sense to me. I guess my brain works differently from yours. If I want my disneyland vacation photos from 2010′ I don’t want to see the photos from my other five trips to Disneyland. I realize you shoot many many more photos than I do, but I just don’t find it challenging to remember which year I shot in. I would find it much more challenging to create and manage an organizational process using collections. Do I go by place or subject? Do I have to add it to multiple collections? How will the collection hierarchy display? That all strikes me as far more complex.

    Instead I have two organization systems. Folders by date and description (ie 2010-12-05 – Disneyland) and keywords, which I find much easier to assign and maintain. The folders let me do a quick scan through the year for a particular shoot, and the keywords allow me to search if I do want all of my photos from Disneyland, or all the ones with myself and my wife in them.

    Each to their own in the end, but to me that’s simplicity.

    • David 3 July, 2013 at 09:49 Reply

      Justin, I concur with your method. I’ve been using it for years and have not had a problem finding images/sessions/projects regardless of when they were shot.

    • Ben V 3 July, 2013 at 11:01 Reply

      I use the same system and it works great for me. I also don’t see the point of stressing over how files are organized on disk given the whole point of Lightroom’s catalog is for keywording. As long as you keyword you can search for anything, and all of my collections are built on searches (e.g. New York, pick, 4+ stars). I have the keywords written to file immediately, and I don’t see myself moving a another product that doesn’t support keywords.

    • Stephen Cupp 3 July, 2013 at 11:13 Reply

      I think Matt is talking about the option in Lightroom to put the pictures into folders by date automatically. From what you wrote you don’t do that. You create a folder with a date and a description.

      • Justin 3 July, 2013 at 12:27 Reply

        Stephen, I use the automatic folders by date option and then just add a one or two word description to the end of the date folder after it’s created. So the end result would be 2013>2013-01-14 (Vegas).

    • Deb Scally 3 July, 2013 at 18:43 Reply

      Justin, I have to say, I agree. I think my hybrid approach is very similar and it sure works for me to find images. I set up Year Folders, with Month hierarchy in each, then name the import set by a descriptive name. But here is the thing: You don’t have to import everything on your card to the same folder! So if you have Utah and California on the same import, just select Utah first and import, then go back and do California. Voila–two separate folders. So in Finder or in the LR interface you’d see 2013/June/Seaside photos, and I might also have 2013/June/New York City., etc. The actual date isn’t that important to me (it’s in the metadata if you need to find it) but it’s generally easy for me to remember events in my life, or events I shot, by the year and month. If all else fails, if you keyword as you import, that can help you locate something fast.

  66. Craig Beyers 2 July, 2013 at 21:28 Reply

    Like some others, I organize by date–mostly. Occasionally–OK, rarely–I create a folder by subject. However, I use the Collections and Collection Sets capabilities to the utmost SFAIK. My initial pass through photos determines picks, not picks, and rejects. A second pass revises those. The picks get “moved” into a collection. I convert the not picks to rejects and delete them from the disk. Within the picks I may select a few of the absolute best photos and make them green. If I’m sorting volleyball pictures, I may also add star ratings so that when I create senior pictures for players I can filter the best of the best without looking at 400+ pictures of each player after 4 years. I also keyword the photos in the collections, giving me the ability to find pictures from any year for a specific subject such as an individual volleyball player, location, etc. Keywords are critical for my use of LR. Matt doesn’t talk about file names, but I use names that are meaningful, such as GMUvsJMU20130925-007. That naming gives me the 2 schools and the date of the volleyball match and I establish that name at import along with any import presets (e.g., that adjust color temperature, Clarity, Vibrance, initial sharpening, etc.) to minimize editing and thus speed image processing. I’ve developed this approach since 2007 to handle 250 – 400+ volleyball match photos and it works for me. Otherwise, I agree with Matt’s comments for most photographers.

  67. theo 2 July, 2013 at 19:45 Reply

    I also organize by date. In my opinion it just doesn’t matter how to organize your files as long as you use keywords and your metadata is correct – that includes for me GPS-information.

    matt: your arguments about using collections contradict your arguments about not using date to organize your photos:
    having all new-york photos in one new-york folder makes it pretty easy to find them when I’m looking for new-york-pictures…but what about looking for wedding pictures I did in New-York, Berlin and Tokyo…and so on.
    Organizing by topics in my opinion is just a pain in the ass.
    With good metadata/keywords you can also put all pictures just in one folder – but to be honest, that would be scary for me 😉

  68. Jack F 2 July, 2013 at 18:49 Reply

    I happen to organize by date. I have adopted George Jardine’s method of organizing my Library. To me it makes sense and is pretty straight forward.
    George is a great LR teacher and he explains his workflow and logic in full detail in his Library Video Series. Check out his website at
    www dot mulita dot com

    • Ed V 4 July, 2013 at 10:50 Reply

      Same here, I also use Georges structure. I really think its a matter of how you associate and organize in your daily life that will determine how you do the same with your photos. There is no right or wrong way. You can organize by date and search by Keywords or you can organize by category or whatever and then search by date…Makes no difference. I use date folders so each day I shoot there is a folder and they all fall under one folder for that year. If I need to find pix of my cat growing up…keyword ‘cat’ or her name ‘deedee’ finds all of them anyway…

  69. Colin 2 July, 2013 at 17:01 Reply

    Organizing by date can really make sense if you’re a parent and most of your pictures are of your children growing up.

    • Cindy 18 July, 2013 at 13:32 Reply

      Amen! My date structure has saved my sanity in finding “that one photo I know I took sometime around Halloween” more times than I can count. It just makes so much sense to organize by date, and not only for this reason.

      • Jeff Foliage 26 August, 2013 at 21:57 Reply

        think back five years and find a photo that you took of you child at a party.. You may know it was Sept because of school starting but was it 2008/09/ or even 07 and then was it early in the month or later.
        The point is the further out you get the fuzzier our memories get.
        I would suggest Shots for Halloween/year/event and throw keywords in for name and event. Then you have a bunch of factors to filter by..

  70. William Chinn 2 July, 2013 at 14:57 Reply

    Any news on a Photoshop AND Lightroom bundle for Creative Cloud coming soon? Don’t need to know when or how much but if. The $9.99 PS CC expires at the end of the month and my Lightroom trial expires in 2 weeks. If I $9.99 and update LR5, and a bundle is announced soon after I will be …..

  71. Donncha O Caoimh 2 July, 2013 at 13:46 Reply

    I organise by date and have 13 years of photos in dated folders. If I want to associate photos together I’ll create a keyword and assign that to those photos after (or during) import.

    • Matt 8 July, 2013 at 03:18 Reply

      Exactly! Using keywords takes away the argument of “How do I find all my photos of New York?” I import all my photos into date related folders just because that is how I’ve always done it. I never look in the folders themselves for pictures anyways and never use the folder browser. I just use the keywords I’ve associated with the images at import to find what I’m looking for.

      • Janine Smith 8 July, 2013 at 13:10 Reply

        And use smart collections! You could have a collection set called “travel” with smart collections for each trip or each destination. New photos will automatically be added to the smart collection, or you can make a new smart collection at any time that will search all the photos in your catalog.

      • John K. Humkey 1 November, 2013 at 15:45 Reply

        (I’m strictly amateur, but) I’ve always wondered for the “Pro’s” . . . if you shot “last years New York” pics under contract to XYZ, I’d be afraid if I pulled them in by KEYWORD of “New York” alone (with pics the other 20 trips to New York) . . . I’d end up accidentally REusing something that I had contractually pledged not to, that just got pulled in with the KEYWORD match.Do what works for you.I use “Site specific”, “Vacations”, “Hobbies” as major categories . . . and subdivide by specific event/site below those, THEN by date below those.

        • Les Howard 6 November, 2013 at 23:21 Reply

          You can apply multiple keywords. Use a second keyword for the client name. You can also search on multiple keywords.

        • Anna 23 December, 2013 at 18:12 Reply

          I structure my photos on my harddrive as:

          “IMAGES > PROFESSIONAL > YYYY > YYYY.MM.DD – Short Description”

          as well as

          “IMAGES > IMAGE LIBRARY > YYYY > YYYY.MM.DD – Short Description”



          I have no problem with duplicates, I have top images flagged and star rated, everything’s keyworded so I can either search everything in the images folder or search by folder such as “professional”, “image library” or “personal”.
          My “image library” photos are the ones that I own full rights to while professional ones were taken for a client and can’t be sold again. Personal is self explanatory.

          This works well for me as well as a client for whom I manage the portfolio of.

          I’ve worked for a photographer before who grouped their photos together depending on country, location or subject and I had a huge mess of photos to sort. I find sorting by year eliminates problems in the future as long as you stay up to date with keywording.

    • TokyoJerry 8 July, 2013 at 23:23 Reply

      I agree. I also use keywords extensively and I also use dated folders. See my more long-winded :-)) post I just created (maybe waiting moderation)

  72. charles uibel 2 July, 2013 at 12:45 Reply

    Holy moly #2 recommendation is seriously messed up.
    You need to rename your files by date and time gwb_yymmdd_040519.dng. Then store all files together in one year folder . dng_2013. Then you have no duplicates. And backups are easy. With 250,000 photos, I’ve never regretted this.

    • Stephen Cupp 2 July, 2013 at 16:49 Reply

      I’ll ask the same question Matt did in his post? Why would you do that? Why would I want my California trip and my Utah trip in the same folder? Also why take the time to rename the files. Since you are already using Lightroom you can search or sort by Capture Time.

      • Nick Williams 18 October, 2013 at 15:14 Reply

        What I use:
        generally, YYYY/YYYYMMDD/YYYYMMDD_###.dng
        If I’m shooting with other people, I may throw in a photographer prefix, or camera serial #.

        Why would you do that?
        -1. File organization and backups as seen by the filing system.
        2. Automation.
        Also, it prevents duplicate filenames, and doesn’t change over time. I don’t use the file system for descriptions because what I see as the trip to NY now, I may see as Aunt Mary’s Birthday 3 years from now. Also, I can store tons more descriptive info with keywords. Why would I want to duplicate that work by adding it into the filesystem?

        Why would I want my California trip and my Utah trip in the same folder?
        -They wouldn’t be unless I did both on the same day. That, however, does not matter, because my California trip will be in the Cali collection, and have California keywords.

        Also why take the time to rename the files.
        -File naming is automated during import.

        Since you are already using Lightroom you can search or sort by…
        -Time, Order Added, Count, Rating, Pick, Label, Color, Name, Extension, Type, Aspect, User Order.
        Not to mention using filters, collections, smart collections….

        All in all, what is important is that you find a system that works for you. Not everyone thinks about it the same way.

    • Hans 3 July, 2013 at 04:05 Reply

      …also if you have a lot of files in one folder (I would say >40.000) you get some serious performance degradation!

      • Ron 8 July, 2013 at 10:49 Reply

        I have no doubt that Matt knows what he’s talking about – at least as something that works for his workflow and probably 99.9% of everyone out there.

        However I think his point about using collections in bullet #4 defeats his idea about not organizing by dates.

        In my mind I organize my photos by dates so that I can back up, locate etc at anytime when needed. Yet at the same time I use collections to organize these in ways that address the idea of this vacation, or that wedding, etc.

        Just my $0.02

        • Rob 11 September, 2013 at 13:17 Reply

          That is exactly what I do. After much research into this, I organize by date and use collections to group together shoots, trips, portfolios and so on.

          • Albert Gouws 5 February, 2015 at 07:07

            I Agree with this.

            The folders for me is like the library in town, it’s organised properly, and probably doesn’t matter how it’s organised, as long as it’s well organised and a rigid fail safe system. Then my collections are organised like a little note book which lists all my favourite books in the library… I rarely just wonder around in the library, but I have my notebook with what I care about handy…


        • Alfredo Perez 6 April, 2015 at 13:45 Reply

          Dear Matt

          I entered a little late into this discussion but I am new in LR.

          Matt with all due respect I think there are many valid aspects commented in this post and I think you as a instructor and expert in the subject should honored and analyzed.

          I will mention something though as a new LR user. The Collection facility is something to take care of, even though it is a great facility I think that naming conventions and organization has also to do with documentation and recovery. The technology is moving fast and you will never know what options will be available not in the distant but in the near future. After spending time analyzing this feature, I’d prefer to minimize its use and maybe using it for specific important portfolios. I think, and it is my opinion, that is better to use folder and subfolder structures to create your organization strategy using the correct naming conventions that can easily be used in the event of transferring to another product or even to view outside of LR.

          So metadata is critical but if you use some key metadata in your file names or folder structure that will make sense for me, it is my approach it does mean that the others are wrong.

          I don’t use date in my folder structure, I prefix all my folders/subfoders with a symbol that has a meaning to me it will also be nicely sorted at first sorted in the library view. I rename all my file and tag the custom text-date-sequence E.g:

          @ – Digital Shots
          # – Portfolio or projects (it is my collections folders)
          & – Film or analogs (Scanned Shots)
          > – Subfolder

          so here are a couple of examples of my folder tree

          Folder – Subfolder



          These has to be combined with keywords to ease the search mechanisms within LR.

          My method helps me to exploit LR features and at the same time has a mean to understand what is on my hard drive for portability reasons, and even though I am adopting LR I’d prefer to think this way

          Matt thanks this is a great space for discussion and learning

          Alfredo Perez

          • Alfredo Perez 6 April, 2015 at 14:01

            Sorry…this is an edited version of my comment…I had some copy/paste issue with the last I sent…here it is again and sorry


            Dear Matt

            I entered a little late into this discussion but I am new using LR.

            Matt with all due respect I think there are many valid comments in this post and I think you as an instructor and expert in the subject should honored and analyzed.

            I will mention something though as a new LR user. The Collection facility is something to take care of, even though it is a great facility I think that naming conventions and organization has also to do with documentation, single point of control and recovery. The technology is moving fast and you will never know what options will be available not in a distant but in the near future. After devoting some time analyzing this feature, I’d prefer to minimize its use and maybe using it for specific important portfolios/projects. I think, and it is my opinion, that is better to use folder and subfolder structures to create your organization strategy using the correct naming conventions that can easily be used in the event of transferring to another product or even to view outside of LR.

            So metadata is critical but I think some key metadata needs to be used in the file names or folder structures, that’s make sense for me, it is my approach but it does not mean that the others are wrong.

            I don’t use date in my folder structure, I prefix all my folders/subfoders with a symbol that has a meaning thus it will also be nicely sorted in the library view. I rename all my file with the following tag: custom text-date-sequence.


            @ – Digital Shots
            # – Portfolio or projects (it is my collections folders)
            & – Film or analogs (Scanned Shots)
            > – Subfolder

            so here are a couple of examples of my folder tree

            Folder – Subfolder



            These has to be combined with keywords to ease the search mechanisms within LR.

            My method helps me to exploit LR features and at the same time has a mean to understand what it is on my hard drive for portability reasons, and even though I am adopting LR I’d prefer to think this way

            Matt thanks this is a great space for discussion and learning

            Alfredo Perez

    • TokyoJerry 8 July, 2013 at 22:14 Reply

      Thanks for that tip. I am curious though, is it possible to have longer then 3 character extensions in file names? I like that example you presented .dng_2013 (except that I don’t do raw).

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